Folks watching the boys hoops game between Peninsula Conference foes Cook Inlet Academy and Ninilchik might have suffered from double vision Thursday night. The number 33 kept scoring buckets on each end of the floor.
Jersey 33 for Ninilchik — 6-foot-6 freshman Austin White — and jersey 33 for CIA — junior Timmy Smithwick — each had their share of points, but it was CIA that ultimately pulled out the 46-37 win at Cook Inlet Academy Thursday.
“We just ran what we usually run,” Smithwick said. “We didn’t get some screens where we wanted them, but everybody did their part and we came out with the win.”
Smithwick scored 20 points to lead the Eagles on a second-half comeback, hitting eight of 10 free throws along the way. Ninilchik’s White put up 18 for the Wolverines, including eight in the first quarter.
CIA improved to 16-4 overall (10-2 conference) with the victory, as Ninilchik dropped to 11-11 (5-4 conference) with the loss.
After a relatively slow start, CIA began forcing Ninilchik into turnovers. Leading the defensive effort was Smithwick, who managed to steal the ball and race down the court for layups on numerous occasions. CIA coach Justin Franchino said he placed emphasis on slowing the game down during the halftime break.
“I told them to play defense, and wake up,” Franchino said. “We were super slow to rotate, we were out of position all the time, which allowed (Ninilchik) to get inside baskets.
“We really turned it around toward the end of the second quarter but we gave up some of those 3s.”
Ninilchik took an 11-10 lead after one quarter, and with the help of White’s height advantage, began pulling away in the second with easy buckets. Tyler Thorne’s trey with 5 minutes, 8 seconds, left in the first half put Ninilchik up 18-12.
“We were forcing the issue, we were just driving in,” Franchino said. “There was no pace on offense. Once we settled down and played smart, then everything changed for us. It came down to thinking with their heads and not with their feet.”
Leading 21-17 at halftime, Ninilchik coach Nicholas Finley said his team found it increasingly harder to get White the ball when he was in position to score under the hoop.
“We stopped making pass fakes, and they were just reading the passing lanes and using their speed to take advantage of that,” Finley said. “We’re a young team, and we have some room to grow still.”
White, who is only in his second year of playing basketball in school, found early success by grabbing passes from the air where others simply couldn’t reach. In the second half, the Eagles made sure to clog up the paint area.
“It’s amazing how far he’s come, and I give a lot of credit to Nick for helping him and developing him,” Franchino said. “He’s going to be quite a handful in a few years.”
The third quarter proved to be the difference in the game, as CIA took off on a 14-2 run to start the half and by the 2:10 mark of the quarter, the Eagles held a 31-23 lead.
“I told them if we can get the lead back out to about six or eight points, we can win it,” Finley said. “We had to come out on offense and be aggressive, but we came out and just didn’t take many shots, and turned it over too much.”
At one point, Smithwick had three straight steals on cross-court passes by Ninilchik, twice leading to driving layups.
“My adrenaline is just pumping,” Smithwick said about his transition drives to the basket. “When I’m going, I don’t know if (a Ninilchik player) is going to come from behind and block me or hit me.
“All you have to think about is the rim, the basket or the backboard. Your whole focus has to be about the basket.”
With 6:22 left in the game, CIA booste d its lead to 13 points, but Ninilchik did everything it could do rally back, and with 41 seconds left, a 3-pointer from Thorne closed the gap to 41-36.
However, after a pair of free throws, Smithwick stole the ball one last time and scored to clinch the win.
With the Peninsula Conference tournament less than a week away, Franchino said the competition looks to be as close as ever, and his squad has a shot to make it to state.
“Game on,” Franchino said about the upcoming tournament. “It’s going to be tough. I’d say there’s at least five teams that can potentially make it to state.”
Thursday was also senior night, as four Cook Inlet players were recognized — Adam Uchtman, Riley Solie, Caleb Lyons and Mylon Weems.
CIA girls 43, Ninilchik 24
Earlier on Thursday, the CIA girls hoops team took on a similar third-quarter charge to distance themselves and beat Ninilchik at home.
Senior Nicole Moffis led the Eagles with 16 points — 13 coming in the second half — while teammate Madison Orth contributed 11 as well. Orth missed the final third of the game after twisting her ankle on the court.
“We don’t have anything until regions, so we hope they’ll hold up,” said CIA coach Rustin Hitchcock. “(Orth) is a high-energy player, she plays like a post and she’s a guard. It’s something we can’t do without, but there’s a risk there, and she understands it.”
With the win, CIA improved to 14-4 overall (7-2 conference).
“Ninilchik is a very improved team and Rod has done some work with them, I got to give him credit,” Hitchcock said. “They had our game plan scouted and they knew how to beat us, and they did that in the first half. We got beat up a little with the press, had some injuries, but we eventually settled into our groove.”
Senior Jessica Rogers paced the Wolverines with 15 points, including nine in the first quarter. Much like her teammate on the boys side, Rogers was able to grab passes and get the looks at the basket she needed.
“I thought we were too tentative with our wing play,” Hitchcock said. “We were catching the ball and just looking to get it to our main guns, when we need everybody to look inside.”
But when Ninilchik needed the points the most, the offense just was not there.
“The press just got to us and we just kind of fell hard,” said Ninilchik coach Rod Van Saun. “That’s what they do.”
Leading 18-15 at halftime, CIA shut out Ninilchik in the third quarter, outscoring the Wolverines 10-0 to take a 28-15 lead. Using clean passing, Moffis managed to get clear looks at the basket, and in the fourth quarter, she really turned it on to help CIA distance itself.
On defense, the Eagles forced turnovers by holding Ninilchik with a deadly press that resulted in 10-second court violations.
“I’m OK with the 10-second calls because that means we can turn around and play defense,” Van Saun said. “But when we just turn it over right to them, they get points off that and that hurts.”
With just over three minutes left in the third quarter, Orth suffered her injury, but that did not stop her teammates. After Orth left the court, CIA promptly scored three unanswered baskets to extend its lead.
With less than a week before the conference tournament, Hitchcock believes his team — aside from the injuries — is in a good position to attempt another state championship run.
“I think we’re ready for it, but so are a lot of teams,” Hitchcock said. “I think this’ll be one of the stronger regional years for the girls side, any of the four or five seeds can do it.”
As a part of CIA’s senior night, Moffis was recognized as the lone senior on the team.
Eagles 46, Wolverines 37
Cook Inlet 10 7 16 13 —46
Ninilchik 11 10 6 10 —37
CIA (46) — R. Smithwick 3 0-0 7, Barlow 1 0-0 2, Leaf 2 0-0 4, J. Solie 0 0-0 0, T. Smithwick 6 8-10 20, Lyons 1 0-0 2, R. Solie 2 0-0 5, Weems 3 0-2 6. Totals 18 8-12 46.
NINILCHIK (37) — Presley 2 0-1 4, Mirales 2 0-0 4, Bartolowits 1 0-0 3, Thorne 2 0-0 5, White 8 2-2 18, Delgado 0 2-8 2. Totals 15 4-11 37.
3-point field goals — CIA 2 (R. Smithwick 1, R. Solie 1); Ninilchik 2 (Bartolowits 1, Thorne 1).
Team fouls — CIA 13; Ninilchik 13.
Eagles 43, Wolverines 24
Cook Inlet 12 6 10 15 —43
Ninilchik 11 4 0 9 —24
CIA (43) — Hanna 0 0-0 0, Moffis 7 0-2 16, Taplin 0 0-0 0, Hills 1 0-0 2, Brush 3 0-0 6, Lyons 1 0-0 2, Hammond 2 0-1 4, McGahan 1 0-0 2, Orth 5 1-2 11. Totals 20 1-5 43.
NINILCHIK (24) — Rogers 7 1-2 15, Cooper 0 0-0 0, Sinclair 0 0-0 0, Goins 0 0-0 0, Ehlers 2 0-0 4, Finney 1 1-4 3, Me. Clark 1 0-0 2, Robuck 0 0-0 0, Mi. Clark 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 2-6 24.
3-point field goals — CIA 2 (Moffis 2).