It’s not how fast you start, it’s how strong you finish.
The Kenai Central girls overcame a sluggish start and held off a determined Nikiski squad to win a nonconference hoops clash 48-44 on Thursday night at Kenai Central High School.
Led by the 17 points from senior Lara Creighton and the 14 from sophomore Brooke Satathite, the Kards improved to 5-3 overall, while the Bulldogs suffered their first loss of the season to drop to 3-1 overall.
“Nikiski is a heck of a team,” said Kenai head coach Cary Calvert.
Nikiski competes at the Class 3A level of basketball in Alaska, while Kenai is at the 4A level, but the annual meetings between the two schools just up the road from each other always feature a high-intensity atmosphere.
Kenai found itself in an early hole, down 16-4 to Nikiski by the 6-minute mark of the second quarter after three consecutive possessions that finished with sophomore guard Bethany Carstens slicing to the rim for layups. Carstens finished with a game-high 23 points.
Satathite, who finished strong down the stretch with six points in the fourth quarter, was tasked with trying to guard the quick and dangerous Carstens.
“In my head, I just went into attack mode,” Satathite said. “Bethany’s a great player, and I don’t know about containing her, but we just couldn’t let her shoot 3s. We were constantly pushing her out.”
Slowly and steadily, the Kardinals began cutting the gap down with tough play on both ends of the court. Creighton began the comeback with a bucket with 5:11 to go in the second quarter. Satathite, Rebecca Miller and Abby Beck all found the netting, and a layup by an unguarded Jaycie Calvert with 1:07 left in the half cut the deficit to 18-15. Nikiski led 20-17 at halftime.
Creighton opened the second half with a steal and a layup, then helped Kenai take the lead 21-20 with a jumper on the next possession. Another jumpshot by Creighton midway through the third quarter put Kenai up 26-20.
By the end of the third quarter, Kenai had taken a commanding 38-27 lead, but the Bulldogs had one last surge left in them. Carstens broke loose on three straight possessions, cutting to the rim for buckets that slashed into Kenai’s lead. With 6:51 to go, the lead was 38-33.
Avery Kornstad found her first points of the game with 4:12 left with a clutch 3-pointer that cut the gap to 40-39, and Carstens answered a Satathite shot on the next possession with a bucket of her own for a 42-41 Kenai lead.
With 2:38 left in the fourth, Satathite put back a rebound, then Beck hit a jumper with an assist from Creighton with 2:19 to go to put Kenai ahead 46-41. Carstens sunk three of four free throws to cut the lead back down to 46-44 with 1:02 left, but Satathite hit the dagger with 52 seconds to play on a layup.
The Kardinals, which went 1-3 at the Joe Floyd tournament in Kodiak over Christmas break, now head into a big time matchup with fellow 4A opponent Dimond on Jan. 13 at home.
“We’re a newer team, but we know who we are,” Satathite said. “We learned (in Kodiak) that we just can’t give up on each other.”
Kenai boys 70, Nikiski 38
The Kardinals blew open a tight few opening minutes Thursday night to win a nonconference clash with the Bulldogs.
Led by the 23 points scored by senior Tristan Landry, Kenai went on a 22-point scoring binge spanning the first and second quarters to pen a 41-17 lead at halftime, and Nikiski never seriously threatened from there.
“We’ve worked hardest on our zone (defense), and tonight our defense helped our offense,” Landry said. “We just settled down and began boxing out.”
6-foot-5 junior Luke Beiser hyped up the home crowd with a two-handed slam at the first-quarter buzzer, en route to 15 points, and senior Josh Jackman chipped in 14 points as well. All three of Kenai’s double-digit scorers sat for the fourth quarter.
Kenai head coach Ken Felchle said that the victory proved to him that his team is a better squad from the one that went 1-2 at the season-opening Al Howard tournament at SoHi in mid-December.
“We had problems with turnovers, and that’s a big concern because that limits your opportunities to score,” Felchle said. “We spent the last two weeks of Christmas break, not working on Xs and Os, but making our defense a priority.”
Kenai jumped to 2-2 overall this season with the win, while Nikiski fell to 0-4.
Braden Ellis led Nikiski with 17 points, while post man Ian Johnson chipped in 13. Sophomore guard Jace Kornstad was limited to just two points on a cold-shooting night.
“Kenai’s just really good,” said Nikiski head coach Reid Kornstad. “They’re athletic and long, and they’re tough to beat.
“But I’m still proud of how these guys continued to compete on the defensive end, they stayed engaged and improved on things.”
Nikiski led briefly in the opening minutes of the game, taking a 6-4 advantage on a jumper by Ellis, but Kenai scored the next 22 points on breakaways and drives to the rim by Jackman, Landry and Beiser, including the quarter-ending dunk by Beiser, which put Kenai ahead 19-6.
Another buzzer-beater, this time a layup by Avery Heiber to end the first half, put the Kards up by 24 points, and the lead was stretched to 50-20 by the 3:17 mark of the third quarter.
Kenai hosts Class 1A state champion Ninilchik next Tuesday at 6 p.m. before heading up for the Dimond Prep Shootout in Anchorage, while Nikiski hosts Southcentral Conference opponents Houston and Redington next weekend.
Kardinals 48, Bulldogs 44
Nikiski 10 10 7 17 —44
Kenai 4 13 21 10 —48
NIKISKI (44) — Wik 0 0-0 0, Pitt 1 0-0 2, Vollertsen 0 1-2 1, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Carstens 10 3-4 23, Kornstad 1 0-0 3, Clark 5 1-1 13, Porter 1 0-0 2. Totals — 18 5-7 44.
KENAI CENTRAL (48) —Calvert 3 0-1 7, Miller 1 2-2 4, Coghill 0 0-0 0, Machen-Gray 0 0-0 0, Wilson 0 0-0 0, Creighton 8 1-2 17, Carrasco 0 0-0 0, Satathite 7 0-0 14, Beck 3 0-2 6. Totals — 23 3-7 48.
3-point goals — Nikiski 3 (Clark 2, Kornstad); Kenai 1 (Calvert 1). Team fouls — Nikiski 9, Kenai 6. Fouled out — none.
Kardinals 70, Bulldogs 38
Nikiski 6 11 7 14 —38
Kenai 19 22 17 12 —70
NIKISKI (38) — Johnson 5 3-6 13, Weathers 0 0-0 0, G. Ellis 1 0-0 2, Kornstad 1 0-0 2, Litke 1 2-2 4, B. Ellis 7 2-5 17, Desienna 0 0-2 0. Totals — 15 7-15 38.
KENAI CENTRAL (70) — Daniels 2 0-0 4, Beeson 1 0-0 2, Hieber 1 0-0 2, Beiser 7 0-0 15, Landry 10 0-1 23, Bezdecny 0 0-0 0, Jackman 6 2-2 14, Felchle 1 0-0 2, Goodman 1 0-2 2, Trujillo 3 0-0 6. Totals — 34 2-5 70.
3-point goals — Nikiski 1 (B. Ellis 1); Kenai 5 (Jackman 2, Goodman 2, Landry). Team fouls — Nikiski 6, Kenai 11. Fouled out — none.