A sluggish start doomed the Nikiski girls from the opening tip in Friday’s Class 3A state tournament semifinal against Sitka, and the Bulldogs never recovered.
Cold shooting and missed rebounds resulted in a 35-15 loss to Sitka at the Alaska Airlines Center, dropping the Bulldogs into Saturday’s third-place game against defending 3A girls champions Barrow at 10 a.m. Barrow was toppled by Anchorage Christian in Friday’s other semifinal.
Overall, Nikiski hit 6 of 43 shots from the floor for a lowly 13 percent average, and Sitka controlled the glass with a 34-17 rebounding advantage. Head coach Scott Anderson chalked up the semifinal showing to a nervous start that multiplied on itself.
“We played them earlier in the year and did the same thing to them,” Anderson said, referring to Sitka’s quick 11-0 start to the game.
Earlier in the year at the Grace Hardwood Classic, Nikiski toppled Sitka 47-28 in the tournament’s title game. Anderson said he felt like the Wolves returned Friday improved and with a point to prove. The 15 points scored by Nikiski was easily a season-low, with 27 being the Bulldogs’ previous low against Grace in the conference tournament. Nikiski averaged 52.7 points per game in the regular season.
“I think mentally, we got back on our heels a little,” Anderson said. “It was one of those nights where everything was against us.
“I’m still really proud of the girls, they could’ve just mailed it in at the end.”
Sophomore Emma Wik led Nikiski’s offense with six points on 2-for-13 shooting from 3-point land, while senior Ayla Pitt had four points and five rebounds. Pitt said Sitka’s size and length advantage down low made life difficult for Nikiski from the start.
“I felt like we were jumbled up,” Pitt said. “They didn’t have just one player doing it, they had two girls and it was hard to shut down both of them.”
The Bulldogs had trouble stopping Sitka’s Tatum Bayne, who erupted for 15 first-half points, ultimately finishing with 19 on 7-for-8 shooting from the floor, and 13 rebounds. Zosha Krupa also fueled the Wolves with 10 points and seven boards.
Once the Wolves established their dominance in the paint early on to stake out a 19-3 lead, Nikiski was forced to catch up.
The Bulldogs tried making up the deficit by raining down 3-pointer after 3-pointer, but only hit 3 of their 28 total shots from long range. Within the arc, Sitka put up 30 field goal attempts to Nikiski’s 15.
After an 11-0 run to start the game and an 8-0 run to finish the first quarter, Sitka’s scoring was eventually slowed by Nikiski’s rejuvenated defensive effort. The only problem was the Bulldogs offense was not there. The only points Nikiski got in the first half was a trey by Amy Porter and a rebound putback by Pitt, leading to a 23-5 Sitka lead.
Pitt said the halftime talk centered around a renewed effort to win the second half.
“Basically we said we wanted to come out and not play with our heads down,” she said.
Wik opened the third quarter scoring with a triple, but the only other points in the period came on a Kelsey Clark jumper.
As if to signal the end of the road for the Bulldogs, a technical foul was called on Nikiski at the start of the fourth quarter for six players on the court, a mistake that Anderson owned up to.
With third place on the line Saturday, Anderson said the goal is to finish the year on a victory.
Pitt harked back to her sophomore season, the most recent state appearance for the Bulldogs, when the Nikiski girls won the fourth-place game on the final day.
“I just remember the seniors wanting to gout with a win, and that’s what we want to do,” she said.
Wolves 35, Bulldogs 15
Sitka 19 4 3 9 — 35
Nikiski 3 2 5 5 — 15
SITKA (35) — Kirby 1 0-0 2, Bayne 7 5-5 19, Vidad 0 0-0 0, Krupa 5 0-0 10, Boord 1 1-2 3, Forrester 0 1-2 1, Davis 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 7-9 35.
NIKISKI (15) — Wik 2 0-0 6, Pitt 2 0-0 4, Vollertsen 0 0-2 0, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Kornstad 0 0-0 0, Clark 1 0-0 2, Jackson 0 0-0 0, Porter 1 0-0 3. Totals 6 0-2 15.