The Soldotna offense exploded at the right time Friday night as the Stars toppled Northern Lights Conference opponent Palmer 53-46 at the Powerade/Al Howard Tipoff tournament at Soldotna High.
The win sets SoHi up with a winner-take-all matchup with Thunder Mountain Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Both teams are 2-0 in tournament play this weekend.
Soldotna senior Tim Duke came up big during a crucial stretch in the third quarter, scoring 11 of his 17 game points in the quarter that put the Stars ahead for the final time.
“We came out with a lot of confidence,” Duke said. “In the first half, we weren’t doing really well, the intensity wasn’t up, but in the second half we brought the intensity and it just sparked something in everything.”
After being held scoreless in the first half, Duke ripped off several breakaway layups from steals in the third quarter, including three straight in a span of 40 seconds, but still admitted that he does not necessarily enjoy the pressure-packed situations.
“It just gives you that feeling that you gotta step up and do better,” Duke said.
Senior Brooks Furlong converted six of eight free throw shots to add 13 points for SoHi, and Joe Weltzin scored eight.
Soldotna coach Mark Tuter said that even after more than 30 years of coaching basketball, games like Friday night’s contest still give him frayed nerves.
“I always get nervous,” Tuter admitted. “I’ve been coaching for over thirty years now and it doesn’t matter if it’s C, JV or varsity games, I get excited every time. I try to be calm on the bench but sometimes I just explode.”
Friday’s win was also important in the Win Percentage Index (WPI) standings, which are a season-long scale of how statewide teams are performing, not too dissimilar to the national college football rankings. The WPI ranks teams based on wins, toughness of schedule and opponent records.
“It’s very important,” Tuter said. “I was telling the kids that you can set yourself up to go to state right now as well as you can in the last week (of the season). Let’s take care of things right now.”
After one half of play, the Stars and the Moose were deadlocked at 20 apiece going into halftime. The biggest lead of the night had been five points.
Coming out of the break, Palmer seized control with an 8-2 burst that included consecutive treys from Tye Ramoth and Clayton Southwick. Ramoth ended the night with three 3’s and 18 total points to lead the Moose.
However, the momentum changed hands quickly, starting with a pair of free throws by Furlong with 3:32 to play in the quarter. On the next SoHi possession, Duke cut through the lane for a layup, then followed that with a quick steal and a long shot from beyond the arc the put SoHi within a point of Palmer, 30-29.
Ramoth responded with a midrange jumper for Palmer, but Dylan Kuntz came back for SoHi with a contested shot of his own. Duke then put away the go-ahead shot with 1:13 to play in the third quarter, once again slashing through the key for a layup. The next two Palmer possessions ended in steals and layups and a 37-33 Soldotna lead.
“At first it was the press, and then it was about reading the ball and breaking up the passing lanes,” Duke said about the point swing.
The closest that the Moose got to the lead after that was midway through the fourth quarter, when Southwick sunk a layup and hit the extra foul shot to close the gap to 42-40 with 5:25 left in the game.
“I wanted to slow it it down and spread it out, but we have a hard time doing that,” Tuter said. “It’s hard to switch when you’re playing so hard. You’re running and jumping and it’s hard to turn that off sometimes.”
Tuter said he thought Drew Fowler produced a great effort guarding Southwick, a 6-foot-5 freshman who hit seven 3-pointer’s for 32 points Thursday against Homer. Southwick had two 3’s for 14 points Friday against the Stars.
“Drew did a great job slowing (Southwick) down and making him work for shots,” Tuter said.
Fowler also played a role in the late SoHi surge, hitting two crucial layups that pushed SoHi’s lead from two to six points with under five minutes to play. From there, Duke, Furlong and Hunter Phillips all converted free throws that iced the game in the final two minutes.
Kenai Central 52, Seward 46
The Kardinals eked out a hard-fought victory over the Seahawks Friday at the Powerade/Al Howard Tipoff tournament in Soldotna.
The win gives Kenai a split thus far on the weekend, which leads them into a 12 p.m. Saturday matchup with Palmer.
Sophomore Josh Jackman led Kenai with 20 points, 11 coming in the fourth quarter. Jackman also came up clutch at the charity stripe, hitting nine of 13 free throws.
“We were better tonight than we were last night,” said Kenai coach Ken Felchle, referring to Kenai’s 67-44 loss Thursday to Thunder Mountain.
“We talked last night that we could compete with that team, but the reality is we’re not the biggest, fastest or strongest team,” Felchle said. “In order for us to compete, we have to be fundamentally sound.”
Kenai junior Taylor Landry added eight points and eight rebounds and junior Austin McKee notched six points and seven boards.
After an even opening quarter, Kenai forged ahead with a 3-pointer from Jackman with 1:56 to play before the halftime break. Jackman added a jumpshot with 1:20 left and added the free throw after the foul to put Kenai ahead 22-18 at the half.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Kenai led 31-27, but Seward refused to go away quietly, getting numerous big plays from senior Michael Wolfe down the stretch.
“The gameplan was to try to deny the inbound (pass),” said Seward coach Curtis Berry about the final few minutes. “If they get it in, then foul, but we missed a couple of cues. We’re still a little loose in the legs.”
Wolfe ended with 21 points, including hitting eight of 10 free throws, to lead Seward, while teammate Ronnie Jackson had 14 points.
Kenai extended its lead to nine points with 3:31 left in the game, but a pair of free throws from Jackson and a 3-pointer from Wolfe quickly closed the gap to 42-38 with 2:51 remaining.
From there, Seward began fouling the Kards for more scoring opportunities. Jackman delivered by hitting seven of 10 shots from the line, even though Wolfe countered with another trey with 1:34 remaining that cut the gap back to 46-41.
Another 3 from Jackson with 21 ticks left resulted in a 49-46 lead for Kenai, but Jackman iced it with a fouled layup on the ensuing possession.
“We shot well from the free throw line tonight, but Seward is a quality team,” Felchle said. “That group of boys have been playing together for two or three years, and they can shoot the basketball.
“We knew when we went ahead that we’d have to earn it, and (Seward) demonstrated it because they hit some big shots.”
Felchle said the Seahawks’ shooting kept Kenai on its toes, but the Kardinals responded with a solid defensive effort. Kenai won the rebounding battle 31-18 and the turnover battle 14-18.
Thunder Mountain 61, Homer 42
The Falcons continued a perfect Powerade/Al Howard Tipoff tournament with a rout of the Mariners, Friday in Soldotna.
Thunder Mountain is 2-0 on the weekend, and will face host 2-0 Soldotna at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the defacto championship matchup.
The Falcons got offensive production out of almost every player, big and small. 6-foot-6 senior Jacob Calloway led the team with 20 points — including 10 in the first quarter — while 5-foot-4 junior Jeremiah Stephens added 15 points on five 3’s. Overall, Thunder Mountain put up nine 3-pointers.
“He’s been shooting the ball well,” said Falcons coach John Blasco about Stephens, who hit three treys in the second quarter. “He’s fun to watch, he’s a quick tiny guard, and he gets that shot off quick.”
It was Stephens that helped Thunder Mountain turn a four-point lead after the first quarter into a 21-point lead by halftime.
“We really wanted to convert on missed shots and turnovers,” Blasco said. “We held them to only three points there, and we converted a lot on the other end. It worked out for us in that quarter.”
Homer held an early 6-1 lead midway through the first quarter, but a 3-pointer from Calloway got the ball rolling on the Thunder Mountain offense with 5:03 left.
Another trey from Calloway with 2:24 remaining in the first pushed the Falcons lead to 15-8, and then the second quarter started.
Consecutive buckets by Stephens from outside the arc pushed Thunder Mountain’s lead to 25-12 midway through the second frame, and a third trey left the Falcons with 14-point advantage with 3:23 to go before halftime.
“I like when my bench guys are hitting three’s,” Blasco said. “It kind of surprises you but it makes you feel good.”
Blasco said breakaway points from turnovers kept the Falcons rolling.
“Each team is showing us something different, which is exposing the weaknesses that I know we have,” he explained.
First-year Homer coach Nate Creel said once Homer found itself in a sizeable hole, it was difficult to dig itself out of it.
“One of their guys got a little hot, made a couple three’s, and once they started pulling away, I think my guys got down a little bit,” Creel said. “I thought we played a great second half, our defense was good. We just let them get away in that second quarter.”
Kenneth Schneider led the Mariners with 16 points, while Sheldon Hutt added 13 points, 12 coming in the second half.
“We weren’t moving our feet,” Creel said. “We got to move our feet, get back on defense. That was one of the main things they were doing, they were throwing the ball down, getting some wide-open layups, and our team just wasn’t getting back.”
Homer will face fellow Class 3A opponent Seward at 1:45 p.m. Saturday.
Stars 53, Moose 46
Soldotna 9 11 17 16 —53
Palmer 8 12 14 12 —46
SOLDOTNA (53) — Kuntz 1 0-0 2, Weltzin 2 4-6 8, Furlong 3 6-8 13, Phillips 1 1-2 3, Spence 0 2-2 2, Duke 7 2-2 17, Gibbs 1 0-0 2, Fowler 2 2-4 6, Trammell 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 17-24 53.
PALMER (46) — Ramoth 7 1-1 18, Roth 0 0-0 0, Debach 2 0-1 4, Ferris 2 0-1 4, Duffy 0 0-0 0, Southwick 5 2-3 14, Blake 1 4-4 6, Snickers 0 0-0 0, Yanez 0 0-1 0. Totals 17 7-11 46.
3-point goals — Soldotna 2 (Furlong 1, Duke 1); Palmer 5 (Ramoth 3, Southwick 2).
Fouled out — none.
Kardinals 52, Seahawks 46
Kenai 7 15 9 21 —52
Seward 7 11 9 19 —46
KENAI (52) — Theisen 2 2-2 6, Ivy 2 0-1 5, McKee 3 0-2 6, Brazell 0 0-0 0, Landry 4 0-0 8, Jackman 5 9-13 20, Vest 1 2-2 4, Foree 1 0-0 3, Wortham 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 13-20 52.
SEWARD (46) — Berry 1 0-0 2, Marshall 0 1-2 1, Pahno 2 1-3 5, Brewi 0 0-0 0, Wolfe 5 8-10 21, Sieverts 1 0-2 3, Jackson 5 3-4 14. Totals 14 13-21 46.
3-point goals — Kenai 3 (Ivy 1, Jackman 1, Foree 1); Seward 5 (Wolfe 3, Sieverts 1, Jackson 1).
Fouled out — Ivy, Pahno.
Falcons 61, Mariners 42
Thunder Mt. 15 20 14 12 —61
Homer 11 3 13 15 —42
THUNDER MOUNTAIN (61) — Stephens 5 0-0 15, Uddipa 1 0-0 2, Mielke 1 0-0 2, Andes 4 1-2 9, Saviers 1 0-0 2, Calloway 8 1-1 20, Markovich 2 1-2 5, Reishus-O’Brien 0 0-0 0, Olsen 1 0-0 3, Toutaiolepo 1 0-0 2, Martin 0 1-2 1. Totals 24 4-7 61.
HOMER (42) — B. Beachy 2 0-0 4, Schneider 7 0-0 16, J. Beachy 1 0-1 2, Brown 2 2-2 6, Trowbridge 0 1-2 1, Rainwater 0 0-1 0, Hutt 6 1-4 13. Totals 18 4-10 42.
3-point goals — Thunder Mountain 9 (Stephens 5, Calloway 3, Olsen 1); Homer 2 (Schneider 2).
Fouled out — none.