The Kenai Central boys keep adding to the deepening battle for Southcentral Conference supremacy that appears headed to a tremendous clash in March’s conference tournament.
The Kardinals used a second-half rally to defeat Homer on Thursday night at home 44-40, yet again pulling through in a tight matchup to jump to 5-0 in conference play (11-6 overall). Homer dropped to 4-3 in conference (8-11 overall).
Kardinals senior Adam Trujillo helped seal the victory with two made free throws with 17.7 seconds left that forced a two-possession game over Homer. Prior to that, junior Andrew Bezdecny laid in a bucket with 1:25 remaining to put Kenai up 40-37.
But as many Southcentral Conference matchups this year, this one was close all the way.
“I told our guys this is one of the hardest fought games that we’ve won,” said Kenai head coach Ken Felchle. “(Homer has) just tough kids. When the ball is on the ground, they’re going to go get it, and that translates to everything else that works on the court.”
Bezdecny finished with 18 points to lead Kenai, while Trujillo added 12. One of Bezdecny’s biggest shots of the game came at the third-quarter buzzer, when the 6-foot-2 forward buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key to break a 31-all tie.
It helped breathe energy into the team and the home crowd.
“That sparked something big for us,” Bezdecny said. “We talked in the second half that we had to work harder, and we were able to do that.”
Kenai has had its share of close battles this season — the team’s first at the Class 3A level — including a 48-47 win over Homer in December and two single-digit wins over Nikiski. Felchle said as the end of the season approaches and the March Madness hype continues to build, those close matchups will reach a fever pitch.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” he said. “You’d better come ready to play.”
Clayton Beachy paced the Mariners with nine points while teammate Ethan Anderson finished with eight.
“We just couldn’t get the ball to go in the basket,” Homer head coach Weston Carroll said. “The guys wanted to blame the refs but it wasn’t their fault. Things just didn’t go our way. It’s a frustrating way to end it.”
Homer’s last good chance to catch Kenai went for naught when Beachy was called for traveling with 26 seconds left with the Mariners down three points. The resulting possession led to fouling and Trujillo icing the game with free throws.
The Mariners took the early lead and were able to build it to 24-15 at one point.
Trailing 24-18 at halftime, the Kards began creating space and getting looks under the rim in the third quarter and Bezdecny began drawing fouls. He drained all four free throws in the quarter and was joined in the scoring binge by junior Braedon Pitsch, who drilled a corner 3 with 2:56 left in the quarter to cut the deficit to 25-23, then later broke a 29-all tie with a layup on a slick assist from Evan Stockton with 1:11 to go in the quarter. Pitsch finished with seven points.
Bezdecny’s trey at the third-quarter buzzer capped a 9-2 run by Kenai to end the frame, but Homer wasn’t done yet. Beachy’s full-court drive with 6:46 left in the fourth quarter cut the lead to 36-35, then Beachy hit a foul shot with 4:00 to play to tie it at 36 apiece.
Connor Felchle’s jumper with 3:19 left put Kenai ahead again for good, and Bezdecny laid in a shot with 1:25 left to pad the lead.
Nikiski girls 57, Wasilla 49
The host Bulldogs of Class 3A took down the perennial Class 4A powerhouse Warriors in nonconference action Thursday night at home.
Wasilla led 31-26 at the half, but Nikiski won the third quarter 17-8 and the fourth quarter 14-10.
Behind veteran coaching presence Jeannie Hebert-Truax, the Warriors have won five of the last eight 4A state titles and have played for the crown in each of the last three years, only losing to Dimond last March.
It gives Thursday’s win that much more meaning for first-year head coach Rustin Hitchcock.
“The girls were extremely coachable and they executed everything we worked on in practice,” Hitchcock said. “We countered everything (Wasilla) tried to do perfectly. We had great (energy), I feel like they got up for the game but they also funneled it through productivity.”
Bethany Carstens had 22 for the Bulldogs, while Kelsey Clark had 12 points and Emma Wik added 11.
For Wasilla, Bella Hays led the way with 14 points, while Diondra Lawhead pitched in 10.
Wasilla has been without star player Olivia Davies, who was sidelined earlier this year with an injury, but Hitchcock said with Hebert-Truax patrolling the sidelines, Wasilla will always be tough.
“They still have Jeannie over there coaching, so I can be nervous about that because she’s going to figure things out,” he said.
Nikiski will host Seward today in a Southcentral Conference showdown.
Soldotna girls 61, Palmer 25
A fast start guided the SoHi girls to a dominant Northern Lights Conference matchup Thursday in Soldotna. The Stars moved to 18-2 overall this year.
Brittani Blossom drained three 3’s in the first quarter to kick-start the Stars offense and finished with a game-high 18 points. Teammate Ituau Tuisaula finished with 17 points and Aliann Schmidt had 12. The Moose were paced by Abriana Busby’s seven points.
Blossom’s hot shooting led to an 18-7 SoHi lead, which grew to 33-9 at halftime. In the second quarter, it was Tuisaula with the hot hand, as she knocked in four buckets for nine points.
Soldotna boys 52, Palmer 45
The Soldotna boys used a late surge to power by the Moose in an NLC matchup Thursday night in Soldotna.
Palmer led 30-29 entering the fourth quarter but the Stars received a boost from David Michael to outscore the Moose 23-15 in the final eight minutes to escape with the win. Michael scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth to lead SoHi.
Jersey Truesdell matched Michael with 12 points and teammate Ray Chumley chipped in 10.
Susitna Valley girls 41, Nikolaevsk 29
The Rams used a 20-7 run in the second quarter to notch a victory at the Susitna Valley Crowley Classic.
Elizabeth Fefelov had eight points and six rebounds to lead the Warriors.
Nikolaevsk now plays today at 11:30 a.m. against Sand Point.
Susitna Valley boys 71, Nikolaevsk 57
The Rams defeated the Warriors in the first round of the Susitna Valley Crowley Classic.
Isaak Fefelov poured in 25 points to lead the Warriors, while Lukah Kalugin had 14, Damian Nikitenko had nine, Michael Trail had four, Justin Trail had three and JD Mumey had two.
Nikolaevsk plays Sand Point at 1 p.m. today in the tourney.
Redington girls 47, Ninilchik 9
The host Huskies cruised to a nonconference victory over the Wolverines.
Jade Robuck had five points to pace Ninilchik, while Isabella Koch had three and Jancee Corey had one.
Ninilchik boys 61, Redington JV 16
The visiting Wolverines cruised past the Huskies JV squad in nonconference play.
For Ninilchik, Garrett Koch had 23, George Nelson had 13, Jake Clark had eight, Cole Hadro and Damon Devila had six, Jacob Mumey had three and Gage Moto had two.
Mt. Edgecumbe girls 52, Homer 25
The Mariner girls lost to the Braves Thursday in the first round of the Lady Grizzly Hardwood Classic at Grace Christian.
Homer plays Friday at 4:45 p.m.
Bulldogs 57, Warriors 49
Wasilla 16 15 8 10 — 49
Nikiski 14 12 17 14 — 57
WASILLA (49) — Mears 0, McSorley 8, Anderson 0, Lawhead 10, S. Green 7, C. Green 4, Cox 6, Hays 14. Totals — 22 4-6 49.
NIKISKI (57) — Jeffreys 2, Wik 11, L. Carstens 3, Bostic 1, Johnson 2, B. Carstens 22, Clark 12, Druesedow 4. Totals — 24 4-6 57.
3-point goals — Wasilla 1 (S. Green); Nikiski 5 (Wik 3, L. Carstens, B. Carstens). Team fouls — Wasilla 12, Nikiski 13. Fouled out — McSorley.
Stars 61, Moose 25
Palmer 7 2 9 7 —25
Soldotna 18 15 15 13 —61
PALMER (25) — MacLean 0, Busby 7, Dettingill 6, Lundin 4, Uschmann 2, Benstetler 0, Russell 2, Patton-Meyer 0, Rickett 0, Anderson 2, Toro 0, Umbarger 2.
SOLDOTNA (61) — McGillivray 0, Buckbee 1, Blossom 18, A. Schmidt 12, Bouschor 1, Tuisaula 17, Holland 3, Leadens 5, Crosby-Schneider 4, D. Schmidt 0, Fischer 0.
3-point FG — Palmer 2 (Dettingill 2); Soldotna 5 (Blossom 4, Holland 1).
Team fouls — Palmer 20; Soldotna 13. Fouled out — none.
Kardinals 44, Mariners 40
Homer 10 14 7 9 —40
Kenai 11 7 16 10 —44
HOMER (40) — Beachy 9, Adkins 4, Reutov 7, T. McGhee 4, Anderson 8, Knapp 4, J. McGhee 3, Swoboda 1.
KENAI (44) — Efta 3, Felchle 2, Baker 2, Bezdecny 18, McEnerney 0, Stockton 0, Trujillo 12, Pitsch 7, McKibben 0.
3-point FG — Homer 1 (Reutov); Kenai 3 (Bezdecny 2, Pitsch 1).
Team fouls — Homer 15; Kenai 18. Fouled out — Efta.
Stars 52, Moose 45
Palmer 13 9 8 15 —45
Soldotna 14 7 8 23 —52
PALMER (45) — Osiensky 5, Marshall 8, MacLean 4, Titus 8, Copp 0, Halbert 0, Rankin 0, Helm 2, Marshall 10, Rogers 8, Helm 8, Brown 0.
SOLDOTNA (52) — Rich 0, Morrison 8, Hanson 2, Chumley 10, Truesdell 12, Kant 8, Michael 12.
3-point FG — Palmer 10 (R. Marshall 4, Helm 4, L. Marshall 2); Soldotna 3 (Chumley 2, Kant 1).