There was nothing tentative about the way the Kenai Central High School boys basketball team jumped into the season Friday.
Trailing Seward 9-0 five minutes into their first game of the season, the Kardinals amped up their intensity on defense and came back to post a 49-46 overtime victory in a nonconference game Friday in Kenai.
The Kardinals carried their momentum into Saturday's Northern Lights Conference game against Homer, defeating the Mariners 56-43 in Kenai.
Also Friday, the Kenai Central girls were able to hold off a late Seward rally for a 39-33 win to open their season.
"I thought we would play much better on the offensive end, but I didn't expect us to play so well on defense," said Kenai boys coach Jim Beeson after Friday's game. "That's how we got back in the game playing hard.
"I thought is was about as ugly as we could have played, but we won the basketball game, and the important thing early is to get wins."
The Kardinals actually trailed for most of the game. Kenai held a brief one-point lead in the second quarter and didn't lead again until Austin McLeod put back a rebound midway through the fourth quarter for a 36-35 Kardinals advantage.
Kenai stretched that lead to four, 41-37, as Kevin Epperheimer hit both ends of a one-and-one, then drove the lane for two in the closing minutes.
Seward answered with a basket in the paint from Caleb Adelmann to cut the lead to two points. The Seahawks then fouled to stop the clock inside of the final minute, and the strategy paid off as Corey Hetrick came up with a rebound of a missed free-throw and drove the length of the floor to tie the score at 41.
The Seahawks then stole Kenai's inbounds pass, and after a timeout, Hetrick put Seward up by two, 43-41, with a nice move to the hoop.
The Kardinals didn't panic, though, and quickly moved the ball back up the court. Kenai got the ball in Josh Bennett's hands along the baseline, and the senior calmly drilled a jumper at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
"Josh saved the day to bring us to overtime," said Kenai's Jordan Jenckes, who came through for the Kardinals in the extra period.
Epperheimer hit a trey to open the 4-minute overtime period, and after Seward came back to tie the score at 46, Jenckes hit for two points with 35 seconds to play, then hustled back to the other end of the floor to come up with a blocked shot.
Seward turned the ball over on a 5-second violation on its ensuing inbounds play, and after the Seahawks fouled to stop the clock, Epperheimer hit one-of-two from the foul line to make it a three-point lead. Seward's final shot attempt didn't fall.
"That was a fun one," said Seward coach Dan Krier. "I really liked our energy level, for the most part. We had some shots that didn't go here and there, but that's part of the game."
Ryan Dieckgraeff led the Seahawks with 14 points, Hetrick netted 13 and Adelmann scored 12. Seward opened strong and led 25-16 at the half, but the tide began to turn as the Kardinals became more physical and gained an advantage on the boards.
"In the first half, we had jitters. We just couldn't shoot," Jenckes said. "We came back and had a little more confidence in our shots, but the real thing was the defense."
"We played hard at the defensive end of the floor, and that created opportunities. That's what led to our offense," Beeson said.
Epperheimer had 17 points for the Kardinals 14 of them after the half and McLeod finished with 12 points.
"Even though we had to go to overtime, it helps to win any game, especially your first game," Jenckes said.
Three players scored in double figures to lead Kenai to a win against conference foe Homer Saturday at Kenai.
After a close first quarter, the Kardinals held the Mariners to only two points in the second for a commanding 35-14 lead at the half.
Bennett led the Kardinals with 15 points, Jenckes had 12 and Austin McLeod pitched in 11 in the win.
The Mariners were led by Jamey Smith's 12 points and Casey Siekaniec's 10.
The Kenai girls led Seward by as many as eight points Friday before the Seahawks put together a run to take a 31-29 lead on a Lara Loomis 3-pointer with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Kenai quickly tied the score on a jumper by Samantha Calderwood. Seward's Kursten Stallings made a nice cut and scored to put Seward back up by two, but Calderwood nailed a 3-pointer with 3:20 to play to put Kenai up for good.
Kenai's Amber McGlasson added two more for the Kardinals, and Kenai went to its stretch offense to run down the clock.
Seward fouled with 26 seconds to go, and while the Seahawks came up with a rebound on the first of Kenai's bonus free-throws, a traveling call gave the ball right back to the Kardinals. Kenai's Samantha Navarre hit three-of-four foul shots in the final 10 seconds to finish off the win.
Kenai coach Lee Moore had three goals for his squad at the start of the game: play hard, play smart, and block out. Moore said the Kardinals definitely played hard and did a decent job blocking out. As for playing smart, he said he saw some smart passing and some smart defense, but also saw a few plays his players might want to try again.
"We made a number of steps in the right direction," said Moore. "... I was very much impressed with the girls. Some of the things at the end of the game we had not practiced our stretch offense, we had just talked about it."
"I thought we played a lot better than we did last weekend (against Chugiak)," said Kenai's Lindsay Keener. "We've been working a lot on trapping and being more aggressive on defense. That helped. That's where most of our points come from fast breaks and that starts on defense."
Both Moore and Seward coach Roger Steinbrecher said the teams made for a challenging game, in part because both sides were so intense on defense.
"Both teams switched defenses quite a bit on each other, and that kept everyone off-balance," Steinbrecher said.
"We made a couple of mistakes at the end that cost us. It was a low-scoring game, so a couple mistakes are huge."
Steinbrecher said his squad had prepped for the various defenses Kenai might employ, but on a few occasions, one or two of his players might have been a little tentative or a little unsure about where to be, leading to a chink in the armor.
Loomis led the Seahawks with 11 points while Calderwood had 10 for the Kardinals.
Moore also was pleased with the contribution off the bench from Kelsey Dunn (eight points), and credited Keener with a solid rebounding effort.
"There's a lot we need to work on," said Keener. "Having a new coach, we're starting over with new plays. We need to be a lot smarter on the offensive end. We're still building."
KARDINALS 56, MARINERS 43
Kenai 16 19 13 8 56
Homer 12 2 19 10 43
KENAI CENTRAL (56) Hansen 0 0-0 0, Saltzgiver 0 0-0 0, Chappell 0 0-0 0, Ellis 1 0-0 2, Epperheimer 3 3-4 9, Miles 2 3-4 7, Faumui 0 0-0 0, Krusen 0 0-0 0, McLeod 2 7-11 11, Bennett 6 3-5 15, Jenckes 5 2-2 12. Totals 19 18-26 56.
HOMER (43) Smith 4 2-5 10, Taylor 1 0-0 2, Logan 0 0-0 0, Gilbert 3 0-0 7, Siekaniec 5 0-0 10, Trowbridge 1 0-0 2, Smith 6 0-2 12, Thompson 0 0-0 0, Roedl 0 0-0 0, Williams 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 2-7 43.
3-point goals Kenai 0, Homer 1 (Gilbert). Total Fouls Kenai 11, Homer 18. Fouled Out none.
KARDINALS 39, SEAHAWKS 33
Seward 8 7 8 10 33
Kenai 9 9 9 12 39
SEWARD (33) Hetrick 0 0-0 0, Prochazka 1 0-2 2, Hoogland 0 1-2 1, Sela 0 0-0 0, Stallings 3 0-1 6, Loomis 4 1-2 11, Gillespie 2 0-3 4, Crane 1 0-0 2, Adelmann 3 1-5 7. Totals 14 3-14 33.
KENAI CENTRAL (39) Navarre 1 4-6 6, Keener 0 1-2 1, Foley 0 0-0 0, Dunn 4 0-0 8, McGlasson 3 0-0 6, Peterson 0 0-0 0, Calderwood 4 0-1 10, Craig 3 0-0 6, Brewer 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 5-9 39.
3-point goals Seward 2 (Loomis 2), Kenai 2 (Calderwood 2). Total fouls Seward 14, Kenai 18. Fouled out none.
KARDINALS 49, SEAHAWKS 46, OT
Seward 15 10 8 10 3 46
Kenai 9 7 12 15 6 49
SEWARD (46) Hetrick 6 0-0 13, Beck 0 0-0 0, Swiderski 0 3-7 3, Blair 0 0-0 0, Elhard 1 2-2 5, Ledet 0 0-0 0, Dieckgraeff 5 3-5 14, Adelmann 3 6-6 12. Totals 15 14-20 46.
KENAI CENTRAL (49) Hansen 3 0-0 6, Saltzgiver 0 0-0 0, Chappell 0 0-0 0, Reemtsma 0 0-0 0, Ellis 0 0-0 0, Epperheimer 4 7-15 17, Miles 1 0-0 2, McLeod 6 0-1 12, Bennett 2 1-2 5, Jenckes 3 1-1 7. Totals 19 9-19 49.
3-point goals Seward 3 (Hetrick, Elhard, Dieckgraeff), Kenai 2 (Epperheimer 2). Total fouls Seward 16, Kenai 17. Fouled out Swiderski, Hansen.
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