Nikiski’s Kelsey Clark looks to the rim against Grace Christian defenders Sarah Laker (30) and Annie VanderWeide, Friday at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Kelsey Clark looks to the rim against Grace Christian defenders Sarah Laker (30) and Annie VanderWeide, Friday at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Friday hoops: Nikiski girls win late over Grace

After holding a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, the Nikiski girls were falling apart Friday night. First it started with sophomore Kelsey Clark being helped off the floor with an ankle injury — not her first this year — then it continued with offensive star Bethany Carstens fouling out with just under two minutes left.

But for the Nikiski girls, an 18-1 squad that is riding a 15-game win streak, the challenge was there for the taking. And the Bulldog seniors took charge on Senior Night.

Ayla Pitt made a momentum-swinging block, Emma Wik hit a game-clinching free throw, and Nikiski prevailed in a 40-36 Southcentral Conference clash over Grace Christian at Nikiski High School.

The biggest test of all came Saturday, when Anchorage Christian Schools arrived in town for a clash of unbeatens in conference play. ACS came away with a 62-56 victory, taking sole possession of the top of the Southcentral Conference at 9-0, while Nikiski dropped to 8-1.

In the most recent Win Percentage Index standings released Feb. 22, Nikiski was ranked second overall and ACS was fourth. Saturday’s loss snapped Nikiski’s 15-game win streak, which dated back to Jan. 5 in a game against 4A school Kenai Central.

Friday’s win was another big step in solidifying Nikiski’s spot in the season-ending state tournament in mid-March. Even if the Bulldogs were to be knocked out early at the conference tournament, to be held on their home floor in two weeks, their high positioning in the WPI standings would likely assure them of a spot at the big dance. Nikiski is currently 8-0 in the Southcentral Conference, tied with Anchorage Christian School, but the WPI guarantees one “wild card” spot at the state tourney.

“I try not to think about it,” said Ayla Pitt about the Bulldogs’ chance of making a deep postseason run. “I don’t want to get it into my head, but I know we can be the best.”

Pitt had four points Friday but played a crucial role under the rim all game long, and when it came time to make a big play, Pitt was there to put a block the Grizzlie’s Grace Salima, who was attempting a shot in the paint with Grace Christian down by three points.

Pitt said with Clark and Carstens out of the game, she knew the remaining five Bulldogs on the floor would need to step up big.

“Honestly I was panicking a little, I was nervous,” she said.

But a few comforting words from a teammate helped calm her nerves.

Carstens ended up scoring a game-high 19 points, including going 8 for 8 from the free throw line, to lead Nikiski, but received her fifth foul with 1:51 left in the game and Nikiski clinging to a 39-36 lead.

After Pitt’s block with about 1:20 to play, Nikiski attempted to run down the clock as much as possible, and Grace was forced to foul. That was when Wik stepped up to hit her first free throw with 39 seconds remaining, pushing the lead into two-possession territory, and the Grizzlies couldn’t hit a bucket in the final seconds.

“That was really good for our seniors to step up and lead us,” said Nikiski head coach Scott Anderson. “That was a gutsy performance.”

Anderson did not have any prognosis on Clark’s ankle injury, which occurred early in the fourth quarter, but Clark missed Saturday’s contest against ACS to heal up. If Clark does not return soon, the Bulldogs face a steeper road to state without one of their key ballhandlers.

Grace Christian coach Ward Romans, the former Nikiski girls coach who was back in the same gym that he helped to hang eight state championship banners in, said the game was the best that his team has played this year, and that he hopes to have Grace peaking at the right time in a tough conference.

“The parity this year is as strong as it’s ever been,” Romans said. “We have three great teams that can beat each other on any night.”

Salima scored 12 points to lead the Grizzlies, while Sarah Laker notched 10.

Romans pointed to Grace’s improved rebounding in the second half as a catalyst for the late comeback. After trailing 23-18 at halftime, Grace began looking for ways to better penetrate into the paint, but ended up turning the ball over several times in the third quarter. Three straight possessions turned into steals and transition points by Wik, Amy Porter and Clark.

By the early moments of the fourth quarter, Nikiski held a 35-23 lead, but the Grizzlies were ready to rally. Annie VanderWeide buried a 3-pointer with 7:29 to play that sparked a 9-0 run for Grace, and a floater by Salima with 3:46 left cut Nikiski’s lead to 37-36.

Pitt answered with a post up shot that pushed the lead back to three, before delivering her crushing block in the dying minutes.

Brianna Vollertsen, Avery Kornstad, Porter and Pitt were celebrated after the game for Senior Night.

ACS girls 62, Nikiski 56

Saturday, the Bulldogs limped out of the gates with a sluggish start. The Lions took off to a 17-4 lead after one quarter, but Nikiski eventually came alive in the second quarter by outscoring ACS 24-12 to cut the deficit to 29-28 at halftime.

Between ACS guard Destiny Reimer’s cuts to the rim and Nikiski guard Emma Wik sinking 3-pointers, the two teams battled to an even third quarter that left ACS up by one point, but the Lions finally pulled away for some breathing room in the fourth quarter. Also, for a second straight night, Carstens fouled out.

Carstens ended up leading Nikiski’s offense with 20 points, while Wik scored 15 points on five 3-pointers, and Brianna Vollertsen contributed 13. ACS was led by Reimers, who had 23, and Jordan Todd, who notched 20.

Grace Christian boys 67, Nikiski 44

Tobin Karlberg enjoyed a field day Friday night at Nikiski, scoring 28 points with an array of jukes and jives and steals that led the Grizzlies to a Southcentral Conference win over the Bulldogs.

Grace improved to 9-0 in the conference and 17-5 overall, while Nikiski dropped to 1-7 in conference and 1-18 overall.

Grace head coach Jason Boerger said Karlberg’s flashiness is not coincidence.

“He’s an awful lot of fun,” Boerger said. “He works hard, he lives in the gym, and he always has that attack mentality.”

Tasked with guarding the elusive Karlberg on Friday was Nikiski sophomore Jace Kornstad, who himself put up 21 points to lead the Bulldogs. Kornstad made six 3’s throughout the night. Nikiski coach Reid Kornstad said his son had his hands full with Karlberg — the two opposing players are good friends off the court — but with gritty post player Ian Johnson not playing due to an illness, Kornstad was left to find other ways to score with his team.

“(Karlberg) is the best guard in the state at any level,” coach Kornstad said. “He’s way too smart, way too talented.”

The shifty guard got most of his scoring done in the first and third quarters, as he netted 20 points combined in those periods of play. In one span of 37 seconds in the third quarter, Karlberg scored six unanswered points for Grace on three steals, including one on a Nikiski inbound pass just seconds after a Karlberg layup.

Brogan Nieder chipped in 14 points for Grace, getting putback buckets on offensive rebounds early on with his size.

At one point early in the second quarter, the Grizzlies led 23-4 over the home team, but Nikiski did not go away. The Bulldogs continued shooting 3’s to work their way back into the game, getting long range shots from Kornstad, Garrett Ellis and Cody Handley.

Nikiski trailed 35-18 at halftime, but managed to keep Grace working hard to protect its lead into the third quarter. Kornstad and Tyler Litke connected on three straight treys to cut the gap to 46-30 with 1:15 left in the third quarter.

A 13-0 run by Grace in the fourth quarter helped seal the victory.

Braden Ellis was the lone Nikiski senior that was celebrated on the boys team Friday night.

ACS boys 59, Nikiski 37

On Saturday, Anchorage Christian responded to a sluggish start by outscoring Nikiski 26-11 in the second quarter, helping the Lions pull out a conference win over the Bulldogs.

Zach Tiualana led ACS with 13 points, while Jace Kornstad buried five 3’s to lead Nikiski with 21.

After leading 35-18 at halftime, ACS withstood a barrage of shots from Kornstad in the second half to secure the win.

Saturday girls

Lions 62, Bulldogs 56

ACS 17 12 13 20 — 62

Nikiski 4 24 13 15 — 56

ACS (62) — Parks 4 1-2 9, Davis 1 0-0 2, Reimers 8 4-5 23, Keller 1 4-8 6, Carr 1 0-0 2, Todd 7 6-6 20. Totals 22 15-21 62.

NIKISKI (56) — Wik 5 0-0 15, Pitt 1 0-0 2, Vollertsen 5 3-4 13, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Carstens 6 5-5 20, Kornstad 2 0-1 6, Jackson 0 0-1 0, Porter 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 8-11 56.

3-point goals — ACS 3 (Reimers 3); Nikiski 10 (Wik 5, Carstens 3, Kornstad 2).

Team fouls — ACS 17; Nikiski 16. Fouled out — Carstens, Keller.

Friday girls

Bulldogs 40, Grizzlies 36

Grace 10 8 5 13 — 36

Nikiski 10 13 10 7 — 40

GRACE CHRISTIAN (36) — VanderWeide 1 4-7 7, Markel 0 0-0 0, Osborne 0 0-0 0, Shamburger 2 0-0 4, Jarvis 1 1-4 3, Salima 6 0-0 12, Laker 3 4-4 10. Totals 13 9-15 36.

NIKISKI (40) — Wik 1 1-3 3, PItt 2 0-2 4, Vollertsen 1 0-0 2, Carstens 5 8-8 19, Kornstad 0 0-0 0, Clark 5 0-0 10, Jackson 0 0-0 0, Porter 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 9-13 40.

3-point goals — Grace 1 (VanderWeide); Nikiski 1 (Carstens).

Team fouls — Grace 12; Nikiski 12. Fouled out — Carstens.

Saturday boys

Lions 59, Bulldogs 37

ACS 9 26 12 12 — 59

Nikiski 7 11 11 8 — 37

ACS (59) — Parks 2 0-0 4, Smallwood 2 2-2 7, Onochie 5 0-0 10, Bennett 0 0-0 0, Smith 2 0-0 4, Hayner 1 0-0 2, Guzman 1 0-0 2, Dickerson 3 0-0 7, Lozano 3 2-2 10, Edi 0 0-0 0, Tiualana 5 3-4 13. Totals 24 7-8 59.

NIKISKI (37) — Johnson 2 5-6 9, Weathers 0 1-2 1, G. Ellis 2 0-0 5, Kornstad 7 2-2 21, Litke 0 0-0 0, B. Ellis 0 1-2 1, DeSiena 0 0-0 0, Handley 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 9-12 37.

3-point goals — ACS 4 (Lozano 2, Dickerson 1, Smallwood 1); Nikiski 6 (Kornstad 5, G. Ellis 1).

Team fouls — ACS 14; Nikiski 10. Fouled out — none.

Friday boys

Grizzlies 67, Bulldogs 44

Grace 23 12 13 19 — 67

Nikiski 4 14 12 14 — 44

GRACE CHRISTIAN (67) — Kopp 2 0-0 4, Ivanoff 1 0-0 2, Shamburger 2 0-0 4, Wood 0 0-0 0, Ji. McGovern 4 1-2 9, Nieder 6 1-2 14, Jo. McGovern 0 0-2 0, Goforth 0 0-0 0, Coulombe 0 0-0 0, Karlberg 12 3-3 28, Beck 3 0-0 6. Totals 30 5-9 67.

NIKISKI (44) — Weathers 0 0-0 0, G. Ellis 3 1-2 9, Kornstad 7 1-1 21, Litke 1 0-0 3, B. Ellis 0 1-2 1, DeSiena 0 0-0 0, Bridges 0 0-0 0, Handley 4 0-0 10. Totals 15 3-5 44.

3-point goals — Grace 2 (Karlberg 1, Nieder 1); Nikiski 11 (Kornstad 6, G. Ellis 2, Handley 2, Litke 1).

Team fouls — Grace 13; Nikiski 10. Fouled out — none.

Nikiski guard Garrett Ellis (14) makes a move against Grace Christian defender Tobin Karlberg, Friday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski guard Garrett Ellis (14) makes a move against Grace Christian defender Tobin Karlberg, Friday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski guard Bethany Carstens (20) works to find a way through a horde of Grace Christian defenders Friday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski guard Bethany Carstens (20) works to find a way through a horde of Grace Christian defenders Friday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski guard Jace Kornstad dribbles the ball up the floor Friday night against Grace Christian. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski guard Jace Kornstad dribbles the ball up the floor Friday night against Grace Christian. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski senior Ayla Pitt defends Grace Christian’s Makenna Shamburger, Friday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski senior Ayla Pitt defends Grace Christian’s Makenna Shamburger, Friday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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