The Homer girls hoops team has been a busy group in recent days. Finishing a week that included high school finals and getting stuck in Cordova, the Mariners put an exclamation point on it with a long-awaited win to open the 2014 Kenai River Challenge girls tournament at Kenai Central High School.
Homer pulled a rarity in upsetting Soldotna 38-34 to jump-start the three-day tournament that pits six schools against each other in a round-robin format.
“From what I hear, we haven’t beat SoHi in 10 years at least,” said first-year Homer coach Chad Felice.
Felice, a native of New York state, took over the head coaching position of the Homer girls this season, but still understood the accomplishment of topping a Class 4A school.
“Just watching these girls go out and play like a team, that’s the big deal to me,” Felice said.
Felice also added that it is a big deal to start the season with three straight wins, after a pair of victories over Cordova last weekend. After the two games, Homer was stuck in the town until Monday night after weather issues delayed travel plans. Add to that a crucial day of finals in school Thursday, and it’s left little time for hoops practice.
With the off-court issues behind them, the Mariners got big games out of several players. Junior Madison Akers scored 10 points to lead Homer, while sophomore Mariah Hendrickson added nine and junior Aurora Waclawski had seven.
“They got some big defensive rebounds, and they just persevered and stuck it out,” Felice said. “They’re a tough group of girls that just don’t quit.”
Homer flashed a little of that toughness late in the game when Hendrickson received an elbow to the face that resulted in a mouth full of blood. Hendrickson, attempting to keep the floor clean, still stepped up to the free throw line to take her shots.
That moment came with just over two minutes remaining in the game, while Homer held a precarious 36-34 lead. Hendrickson missed both shots, but free throws ultimately ended up deciding the game anyway, as Larsen Fellows and Uliana Reutov both sunk a freebie in the final 23 seconds to ice the contest.
“Just knock down the free throws and slide our feet on defense,” Felice said when asked what was going through his mind in the final seconds. “Slide our feet and box out, and don’t force things.”
Akers nailed the go-ahead jumper with 3:06 left, getting an offensive rebound to set up her shot.
Homer and Soldotna traded the lead five times in the fourth quarter, which was preceded by drastic swings of momentum in the opening three frames of the game.
The Mariners began on a hot streak, pulling out to a 14-8 lead in the first quarter, but SoHi answered in the second with seven straight points, including a five-point stretch in the span of one second.
Senior Hayley Ramsell notched a layup and was subsequently fouled. Ramsell missed her free throw, but teammate Haley Miller was there to tip in the rebound, while also getting fouled in the process. Miller sunk her shot from the line to put the Stars within one point of the Mariners.
“We just got too passive on offense,” said Soldotna coach Kyle McFall. “If we didn’t run a set play, we really struggled in our motion, and part of it is they’re learning to play with each other.”
The passiveness resulted in only nine second-half points, while Homer finished with 16 in the second half. Ramsell led SoHi with 14 points in the game, while Miller provided 11.
In the fourth quarter, Fellows gave Homer a 30-29 lead on a jumpshot with 6:32 remaining, which was answered with a Ramsell layup a minute later. After Akers put up a go-ahead layup on an offensive rebound, SoHi’s Skylar Shaw sunk a 3-pointer with 4:49 left that gave SoHi a 34-32 lead.
Soldotna will face Thunder Mountain today at 4 p.m., while Homer matches up with Kenai at 7 p.m.
Thunder Mountain 55, Seward 31
A third-quarter surge propelled the Falcons to the win against the Seahawks in Thursday’s opening game at the Kenai River Challenge.
The dynamic duo of Siniva Maka and Siosi Topou led Thunder Mountain through the second-half burst, providing 10 of Thunder Mountain’s 18 points in the third quarter. Maka ended with nine points total while Topou ended with seven. Senior Ashley Young led the Falcons with 13 points, 11 coming in the first half.
“They are both leaders on the team, and they can be leaders every single night,” said Thunder Mountain coach Tanya Nizich. “I hope they recognize that and create opportunities the rest of the season as well.”
The Falcons led by as much as 25-11 in the second quarter, but Seward battled back with a trio of buckets from Kiana Clemens and Natasha Jacobson that cut the deficit to 27-17 at halftime.
However, Make and Topou seized control in the third quarter to widen the gap for the Falcons. Before five minutes were up in the second half, Thunder Mountain had increased its lead to 39-17, getting points off of turnovers and offensive rebounds.
“We have a lot of things we want to work on and work the bugs out of,” Nizich said. “With everybody having two weeks of practice, it’s always good to jump into the first game.”
Clemens led the charge for Seward with 10 points while teammate Jasmine Perea added seven.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” said Seward coach Mark Clemens. “We’ve got to get our defense tightened up, our help defense wasn’t there tonight on the low post.”
Thunder Mountain will play Soldotna today at 4 p.m., while Seward will face Lumen Christi at 5:30 p.m.
Kenai Central 76, Lumen Christi 15
The host Kardinals got off to a blazing start at their own tournament with a 61-point win over the Archangels Thursday evening on Cliff Massie Court.
Junior Alexis Baker scored 13 of her 15 points in the second half to lead the Kards, while Sarah Every and Hannah Drury added 10 apiece. Four other Kenai players had at least eight points as well.
“We’re proud of what we saw (tonight),” said Kenai coach Stacia Rustad. “We kept to the game plan. Our goal this year is to press for 32 minutes, and most people saw that in the first quarter and a half.”
Using a suffocating full-court press, Kenai barely left Lumen Christi — which only suited up seven players — with any chance on offense. Turnovers and steals allowed Kenai to get multiple open looks at the basket, even during the times that both teams were organized on one end of the court.
It allowed Kenai to score at least 20 points in each of the first three quarters.
“In that little window that we were running our run-and-jump, we’re happy,” Rustad said.
After streaking out to a 21-4 lead after the first quarter, the Kards continued to pile on the points in the second frame, getting several breakaway buckets from Abby Beck and Hannah Barcus to push the lead to 35-4 with 4:20 to play in the half.
The Kards expanded their lead to 53-6 midway through the third quarter, and the score was 65-9 after three quarters of play.
Rustad said even though Lumen Christi is a Class 1A school, which is expected to struggle against the Class 4A Kardinals, she was optimistic in the confidence that the brought to her squad.
“Kudos to Lumen Christi, but it does give us a lot of confidence,” Rustad said. “We won seven games last year, and we went 0-10 in a very tough conference. So this makes us feel good, and this is what our girls need.”
Kenai will face a bigger challenge today when the Kards play Homer at 7 p.m.
Tori Kruger led Lumen Christi with seven points Thursday. The Archangels will play Seward at 5:30 p.m.
Mariners 38, Stars 34
Homer 16 6 4 12 —38
Soldotna 8 17 4 5 —34
HOMER (38) — Reutov 0 1-2 1, Alexander 2 1-3 5, Cleary 0 1-3 1, Clark 0 0-0 0, Akers 5 0-0 10, Fellows 2 1-2 5, Waclawski 3 1-2 7, Hendrickson 4 1-6 9. Totals 16 6-18 38.
SOLDOTNA (34) — Rouse 0 0-0 0, Nelson 1 0-0 2, Shaw 1 0-0 3, Jackson 1 0-0 2, McDonald 0 0-0 0, Ramsell 7 0-1 14, Miller 5 1-2 11, Glaves 1 0-2 2. Totals 16 1-5 34.
3-point goals — Homer 0; Soldotna 1 (Shaw).
Fouled out — Jackson.
Falcons 55, Seahawks 31
Thunder Mountain 11 16 18 10 —55
Seward 7 10 2 12 —31
THUNDER MT. (55) — Thompkins 3 5-5 11, Uddipa 0 0-0 0, Echiverri 1 0-0 2, DiCarlo 1 0-0 2, Strong 0 0-1 0, Ekis 3 2-2 9, Maka 4 0-0 9, Topou 3 0-2 7, Martin 1 0-0 2, Young 6 1-2 13. Totals 22 6-12 55.
SEWARD (31) — Doepken 0 0-0 0, Moriarty 1 0-2 2, Anderson 0 1-3 1, Honebein 0 0-0 0, Jackson 2 2-4 6, Baldwin 0 0-0 0, Lipanskas 2 1-3 5, Perea 2 3-5 7, Clemens 5 0-2 10. Totals 12 7-19 31.
3-point goals — Thunder Mt. 3 (Ekis 1, Maka 1, Topou 1).
Fouled out — Jackson.
Kardinals 76, Archangels 15
Kenai Central 21 20 24 11 —76
Lumen Christi 4 2 3 6 —15
KENAI (76) — Ostrander 4 0-0 9, Holmes 1 0-0 2, Drury 4 2-2 10, Steinbeck 3 0-0 6, Tammilehto 0 0-0 0, Baker 7 1-1 15, Booth 4 0-0 8, Barcus 4 0-0 8, Beck 3 2-2 8, Every 5 0-0 10. Totals 35 5-5 76.
LUMEN CHRISTI (15) — Barnes 2 0-1 4, Dufrane 0 0-0 0, Bakic 1 0-0 2, Estes 1 0-1 2, Kruger 3 1-5 7, McCormick 0 0-0 0, Zitzow 0 0-0 0. Totals 7 1-7 15.
3-point goals — Kenai 1 (Ostrander).
Fouled out — none.