It wasn’t pretty, but the Nikiski girls are moving on in the Class 3A state championship tournament.
The third-seeded Bulldogs staved off the sixth-seeded Valdez Buccaneers Thursday night to win 58-45, advancing them to a Friday night semifinal clash with the Barrow Whalers at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. Tipoff is 8 p.m.
Bethany Carstens led Nikiski with 21 points and 11 rebounds, hitting 8 of 12 shots from inside the arc along the way. Carstens dealt with foul trouble in the second half as Nikiski desperately tried to hold on to a lead, and was hit with her fourth foul late in the third quarter.
“Foul trouble was insane,” said Nikiski head coach Rustin Hitchcock. “But that’s where experience came in.”
Kelsey Clark pitched in late to help Nikiski survive, finishing with seven points and six boards. Kaycee Bostic added nine points and Emma Wik had eight.
Nikiski controlled the game early on with Carstens exerting her will on the Bucs, and the lead grew to as much as 26-9 midway through the second quarter.
However, Valdez began finding a groove from beyond the 3-point line, Ashley Ramoth and Jillian Fleming both ate up the gap with hot shooting. A trey by Ramoth closed the gap to two points, and two more free throws by Ramoth tied it at 42 apiece with 5:44 remaining in the fourth quarter. Ramoth ended the night with a team-high 10 points.
Finally, the Bulldogs rediscovered their game and America Jeffreys kickstarted Nikiski’s final surge with a corner 3 with 4:22 left. Carstens followed it with a pair of drives to the rim to push the lead back out to 49-42 with 2:14 left.
“We were really hyped up,” Carstens said. “It’s always the first day that’s the hardest, because you’re still getting used to so much more space on the sidelines, it’s harder to shoot, so we just had to relax.”
Kenai girls 34, Mt. Edgecumbe 32
In the program’s first trip back to state since 2002, the Kardinals made it count with a tight victory over the Braves in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.
Kenai staved off a late comeback by Mt. Edgecumbe. The Braves tied the game at 32 apiece late in the fourth quarter, but Brooke Satathite dribbled to the hoop and laid in a bucket with 1:58 remaining to put the Kardinals ahead, and the notorious Kenai defense did the rest.
The victory cemented Kenai’s place in Friday’s semifinal round with a 6:30 p.m. matchup with ACS.
Satathite finished with 12 points and six rebounds, while fellow senior Jaycie Calvert notched 11 points and Hayley Maw added six.
The Kardinals entered the tournament as the No. 5 seed, having secured their spot with the at-large bid following a third-place finish in the Southcentral Conference tourney. Calvert said the opening day win sweetened up an already sweet trip to the big dance.
“This is just an amazing experience,” she said. “It’s been a goal of ours since we started playing together in eighth grade. It’s really cool to be able to experience it after watching all my friends play.”
Calvert connected on three 3-pointers, and buried a trey with 4:48 left in the game to put the Kards up by five, which would prove to be crucial down the stretch.
Head coach Cary Calvert said his team still left something in the bucket, but a ferocious defensive press helped Kenai rebound when it looked like the Braves held all the momentum.
“It was a struggle, but our season has been a struggle,” Calvert said. “But they got the job done.”
Kenai streaked away to an early 11-4 lead and was ahead 15-11 at halftime, but the Braves never allowed the Kardinals breathing room. Coach Calvert compared Edgecumbe’s playing style to that of his own team, and it showed up in the form of hard-nosed, scrappy defense by both sides.
“Edgecumbe is always consistently one of the best teams in the state,” said Jaycie. “I think that showed today.”
In the pressure cooker of Kenai’s defense, the Braves made mistakes, such as when Hayley Maw followed up a jumper with a steal and layup in the third quarter that capped a 6-2 run for the Kards, putting them ahead 21-13.
But the Braves roared back beginning with two muscle layups by Sanora Bell that sparked a 9-0 run by Edgecumbe, putting the Braves ahead 22-21 on a trey by Catherine Sunny. Bell finished with a team-high 10 points.
Kenai led 24-22 after three quarters. The lead got as close as 28-27 Kenai leading with 5:29 left in the fourth before the late drama.
Following Satathite’s bucket with 1:58 to go, Mt. Edgecumbe failed to hit net as the Kardinals stifled the Braves in their desperation. Edgecumbe’s last attempt to tie it came with seconds to go, and the Kards grabbed the rebound to secure the win.
Kenai lost all three games with ACS this year, but Calvert said the second contest on March 1 proved the Kards could keep up with the juggernaut Lions. Kenai trailed by single digits at halftime and ended up losing 57-32. Kenai last played ACS to a 63-23 loss at the conference tournament.
“I’m optimistic,” Calvert said. “We can’t play them any worse than we did at regions, that’s impossible.”
Bulldogs 58, Buccaneers 45
Nikiski 12 19 11 16 —58
Valdez 7 15 12 11 —45
NIKISKI (58) — Jeffreys 7, Wik 8, L. Carstens 2, Bostic 9, Johnson 0, B. Carstens 21, Epperheimer 0, Clark 7, Druesedow 1, Hooper 3, Reichert 0, Zimmerman 0.
VALDEZ (45) — King 9, Watts 7, Ramoth 10, King 0, Gilbert 1, Seiber 6, Selanoff 0, Holmes 1, Alfaro 0, Fleming 11, Hansen 0, Prax 0.
3-point FG — Nikiski 7 (Jeffreys 2, Wik 1, Bostic 1, B. Carstens 1, Clark 1, Hooper 1); Valdez 5 (Ramoth 2, Fleming 2, Watts 1).
Team fouls — Nikiski 21, Valdez 13. Fouled out — none.
Kardinals 34, Braves 32
Edgecumbe 4 7 11 10 —32
Kenai 9 6 9 10 —34
MT. EDGECUMBE (32) — Strom 0, Sunny 9, Allen 0, Beans 2, Skaflestad 4, Ramoth 2, Charlie 2, Strom 2, Bell 10, Brown 0, Miller 1, Kameroff 0.
KENAI CENTRAL (34) — Calvert 11, Pierce 0, Hamilton 1, Maw 6, Hanson 0, Streiff 2, L. Satathite 0, Severson 2, B. Satathite 12.
3-point FG — Mt. Edgecumbe 1 (Sunny); Kenai 3 (Calvert 3).
Team fouls — Mt. Edgecumbe 12; Kenai 14. Fouled out — Sunny.