Kenai girls take 4th, Kenai boys take 6th at state

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The Kenai Central girls basketball team took fourth place and the Kardinals boys took sixth at the Class 3A state tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage on Friday.

The No. 7 seed Kenai girls defeated No. 5 Sitka 29-28 in the fourth-place game to end the season at 18-13 overall.

The No. 5 seed Kenai boys lost to No. 6 Valdez 48-44 in the fourth-place game to end the season at 16-14 overall.

The Kenai girls and head coach Jeff Swick finally got a victory against the Wolves. The Kardinals lost to Sitka the past two years at state. Swick, who completed his fourth season, also is 0-4 in the regular season against the Wolves.

The Kardinals did it with a stout defensive effort. Kenai led 9-8 after the first quarter and 17-14 at halftime. Sitka was able to take a 24-23 lead into the final quarter, but Kenai clamped down and held the Wolves to just four points in the final quarter.

Nobody scored in the final quarter until Chloe Goldsby put the Kardinals up 25-24 with about three minutes to play.

With 1:50, Ava Brady had a foul shot for Sitka to tie the game at 25. Emma Beck then had a layup for Kenai, but Kaleena Tucker hit a 3-pointer for a 28-27 lead for the Wolves.

With 26 seconds left, Naia Nelson missed the front end of a bonus for Sitka. With 16.5 seconds left, Beck hit a pair of foul shots for the 29-28 victory.

Kenai Central shot 28% for the game, while Sitka was at 24%. The Kardinals won the rebound battle 21-18, and Kenai had 12 turnovers while Sitka had just nine.

Beck paced the Kardinals with 15 points and also grabbed 19 rebounds. Malerie Nunn added seven points for the Kards, while Chloe Goldsby had five and Ella Yragui had two.

For Valdez, Tucker had 10 points, while Marina Olney-Miller had nine, Nelson had eight and Ava Brady had one.

Seniors Nunn, Yragui, Rylie Sparks and Goldsby were able to leave the floor for the last time after securing Kenai’s best state finish since 2019, when the Kards were third.

The Kenai boys trailed 14-10 after a quarter, but led 24-21 at halftime and 35-29 after three quarters.

In the fourth quarter, Kenai struggled with turnovers and gave up a 7-2 run to start the fourth quarter and then gave up another late run that provided the difference in the game.

“When the pressure rises, the quality of our shot choices goes down,” Kenai boys coach Nolan Rose wrote in a text message. “We’ve battled that all season and it popped up again in our final game.”

Overall, Rose said the Kardinals played the Buccaneers well. Kenai shot 43% from the floor, while Valdez was at 51%. Kenai outrebounded Valdez 23-18 and had just seven turnovers to the 12 of Valdez.

“We knew Valdez would be a huge hill to climb,” Rose wrote. “It’s disappointing for our kids to play so well for 28 minutes and not come away with the result we wanted in a great game like that.”

Jakob Kvasnikoff poured in 17 to lead Kenai, while Daniel McRorie had nine, Wade James had eight, Bridger Beck had six, and Roc Riggle and Carnell Gump had two apiece.

For Valdez, Hunter Matthews pumped in 18 points, while Bryce Tucker had 13, Payton Gage had nine, Owen Watson and Allen Watson had three, and Tino Tucker had two.

This was the last game for nine Kenai seniors — Luke Armstrong, Davion Swain, Owen Whicker, Riggle, McRorie, Kvasnikoff, Beck, James and Gump.

“Very proud of the example our nine seniors set for future Kardinal teams,” Rose wrote. “Kenai Central can be a great ‘basketball school’ in Alaska. We’ll be back to the state championship tournament soon and these seniors will share a piece of that success.

“We’ll take a break for one week and then we’ll get back in the gym and start the work to get back here and eventually win the whole thing.”

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