Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Kenai Central forward Garrett Fitt (24) shoots over Soldotna defenders Derek Evans (23) and Caleb Spence Thursday at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Palmer High School.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Kenai Central forward Garrett Fitt (24) shoots over Soldotna defenders Derek Evans (23) and Caleb Spence Thursday at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Palmer High School.

Kenai boys, SoHi girls avenge losses at NLC Day 1

The third time was the charm for the Soldotna girls and Kenai Central boys basketball teams.

After being swept in two regular season games by their closest rivals, both squads avenged those losses with victories Thursday, the first day of competition at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Palmer High School. The SoHi girls finally closed the deal over Kenai with a 31-25 win, while the Kenai boys started slow but finished fast in a resounding 49-32 victory over the Stars.

“It’s big because it’s regions, and this is what we’ve been working for,” said Kenai junior Josh Jackman. “We knew we could play with them, but this was one more reason to beat them.”

The Kenai boys will play top-seeded Wasilla today at 3:15 p.m., while Soldotna will play Kodiak, 57-34 losers to Palmer on Thursday today at 11:45 a.m.

Jackman scored 11 points in the fourth quarter to lead the charge, and ended with 18 points total. For the first time in his three-year varsity career, he also defeated SoHi.

“We have a bunch of seniors on the team this year, and once we realized that this could be the end of our season, we really tried to turn it on,” Jackman said.

The win was the first for the Kenai boys over SoHi since February 2012, which was the last year the Kards made the trip to the state tournament. Kenai has a chance to get back to the big dance today if they can topple the Warriors.

Kenai coach Ken Felchle said Jackman is one of a few players on the team that have suffered through two straight years of struggles for the team, including a two-win season in 2014 and a five-win season in 2015.

On the heels of an 11-win season and with only Wasilla standing in their way of making it back to state, Felchle said the team is ready to break through.

“We came within a couple possessions of beating them on our home floor last time, so we have what it takes to do it,” he said. “We’ll be ready to play.”

After seeing a double-digit lead slip away last Saturday in the team’s 47-42 loss to SoHi, the Kards were the ones doing the chasing on Thursday. A sluggish start left Kenai trailing 11-3 after the first 5 1-2 minutes. At halftime, SoHi held a 19-14 lead, thanks to stellar offensive play by Derek Evans and Eli Sheridan. Evans ended with a team-high 11 points.

However, momentum quickly shifted in the opening minutes of the second half. The first time Kenai touched the ball in the third quarter resulted in a two-handed putback dunk by Garrett Fitt that provided a spark for the rest of the team. Fitt, who ended with 10 points, tipped back a layup on the next possession to further cut into the lead, and Keith Ivy buried a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to give Kenai a 21-19 lead, its first of the game.

The surge of momentum from Kenai was fueled by steals and transition points, as well as second-chance opportunities.

“Josh did a great job pushing the ball and when he missed, we had our bigs to come in and clean up the mess,” Felchle said.

Another triple from Ivy, this one from the corner position, pushed Kenai’s lead to 26-21 by the midway mark of the third quarter. By the end of the frame, Kenai led 30-26.

Any rally from SoHi in the fourth quarter was squashed by Kenai’s ferocious press, which forced several turnovers. The Kards opened the final quarter on a 10-1 run to take a 40-27 lead with 4:40 to play, helped by buckets from Fitt, Jackman and Connor Johnson.

Dylan Kuntz popped in a trey with 4:30 left to give SoHi a fighting chance, but a putback layup by Ivy on the ensuing possession kept the Stars at bay.

A steal by Zack Tuttle that resulted in a Jackman layup off the glass left Kenai with a nearly insurmountable 19-point lead with 2:32 remaining. Overall, Kenai outscored Soldotna 16-7 in the third quarter and 19-6 in the fourth.

“Rebounding was huge for them, and they won a lot of loose balls,” said SoHi coach Mark Tuter.

Felchle praised the Kards effort in keeping their state tournament hopes alive one more day.

“In past years, even if we weren’t that competitive, we always played our best ball at the end of the year,” Felchle said.

Soldotna girls 31, Kenai 25

After a regular season sweep by Kenai was capped by a heartbreaking loss in the final seconds of last Saturday’s matchup, the Stars finally got the better of the Kards in a defensive slugfest.

SoHi senior Lindsey Wong scored seven of her game-high 12 points in the fourth quarter and bench player Brittani Blossom notched a pair of crucial 3s to lead the Stars to the win and keep their season alive one more day.

“I think we just wanted it more in the end,” Wong said. “After last week, we watched film of that last 30 seconds a lot.”

Just five days prior, Wong had scored six points in the final two minutes of SoHi’s regular season finale against Kenai to tie it up, only to watch Kenai’s Hannah Drury lay in the winning bucket with just seconds to go.

With Drury and junior guard Lara Creighton kept in a tightly sealed box, the Soldotna defense was kept working at a high level. Creighton was Kenai’s leading scorer with eight points and Drury was held to a single 3-pointer for her only points of the day.

“We just crashed the boards better and kept Lara from getting too many second chances,” Wong said.

The Stars will face the No. 1 Wasilla Warriors today at 5 p.m., while the Kards will end their season with a matchup against Kodiak, 62-40 losers to Palmer on Thursday, today at 10 a.m.

Soldotna coach Kyle McFall said the Stars worked hard all week on deciphering Kenai’s stout offense, which has hurt Soldotna in the regular season with a deadly post game.

“We worked on giving them a variety of different looks, defensively, and we really buckled down on rebounding,” McFall said.

The coach added that the win was also big for SoHi getting to play on Saturday, which will either be in the championship game or the third-place contest.

“That was one of our goals,” he said.

With both teams scoring a combined five points in the second quarter, the onus was on defensive play early on. The only buckets in the second frame came courtesy of Kelsey Booth’s baseline jumper and Kendra Brush’s layup.

Kenai led 12-10 at the half, but an early play in the third quarter help turn the momentum for SoHi. Wong caught a steal 25 seconds into the second half and dished the ball to Maddie Kindred for the tying layup.

With 1:15 left in the third quarter, Blossom found open space at the top of the arc and launched a triple that gave the Stars a 19-17 lead, their first of the game.

After Kenai closed the gap to four points early in the fourth quarter, Blossom struck again from long range with 5:36 left in the game to put SoHi ahead 29-22 and leave the Kards in serious doubt of making a comeback.

“Those two 3s from Blossom hurt us,” said Kenai coach Cary Calvert. “It was there, it was there, and then she hit those 3s, and I’m not surprised because she’s a good shooter.”

Drury converted a trey with 2:42 left to close the deficit once more to 29-25, but a patient offensive possession by SoHi ultimately resulted in Wong getting a good look at the basket and scoring on a layup with just over a minute left on the clock. With 46 seconds left, Wong intercepted an inbounds pass by Kenai and effectively iced the game.

“Definitely, at that point, we were so close, we just had to give everything,” Wong said.

Thursday boys

Kardinals 49, Stars 32

Kenai 5 9 16 19 —49

Soldotna 11 8 7 6 —32

KENAI (49) — Daniels 0 0-0 0, Ta. Landry 0 2-2 2, Ivy 3 0-0 8, Vest 1 0-0 2, Brazell 1 0-0 2, Tr. Landry 0 0-0 0, Tuttle 0 0-2 0, Jackman 6 5-9 18, Beiser 2 1-1 5, Fitt 3 4-4 10, Beeson 0 0-0 0, Johnson 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 12-18 49.

SOLDOTNA (32) — Kuntz 1 1-2 4, Sheridan 3 0-0 6, Casey 1 0-1 2, Spence 1 1-3 3, Dickson 0 1-2 1, Smithwick 1 3-4 5, Evans 4 3-6 11, Kant 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 9-18 32.

3-point goals — Kenai 3 (Ivy 2, Jackman 1); Soldotna 1 (Kuntz).

Team fouls — Kenai 14; Soldotna 17. Fouled out — none.

Thursday girls

Stars 31, Kardinals 25

Soldotna 7 3 11 10 —31

Kenai 10 2 7 6 —25

SOLDOTNA (31) — Nelson 2 0-0 4, A. Schmidt 0 0-0 0, Wong 4 2-7 12, Blossom 2 0-2 6, Brush 1 0-0 2, McElroy 0 0-0 0, D. Schmidt 1 0-0 2, Kindred 2 1-2 5. Totals 12 3-11 31.

KENAI (25) — Calvert 0 0-0 0, Holmes 0 0-0 0, Drury 1 0-0 3, Steinbeck 2 2-4 6, Creighton 3 2-4 8, Baker 3 0-0 6, Booth 1 0-0 2, Ross 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 4-8 25.

3-point goals — Soldotna 4 (Wong 2, Blossom 2); Kenai 1 (Drury).

Team fouls — Soldotna 9; Kenai 15. Fouled out — Baker.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Soldotna guard Daisy Nelson looks for an opening against the Kenai Central defense Thursday at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Palmer High School.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Soldotna guard Daisy Nelson looks for an opening against the Kenai Central defense Thursday at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Palmer High School.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Kenai Central forward Lara Creighton (20) grabs a rebound against Soldotna Thursday at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Palmer High School.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Kenai Central forward Lara Creighton (20) grabs a rebound against Soldotna Thursday at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Palmer High School.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Kenai Central guard Josh Jackman (22) drives to the hoop against Soldotna defender Timmy Smithwick Thursday at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Palmer High School.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Kenai Central guard Josh Jackman (22) drives to the hoop against Soldotna defender Timmy Smithwick Thursday at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Palmer High School.

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