In all previous basketball seasons, Saturday’s nonconference matchup between the Nikiski and Mt. Edgecumbe girls would simply be a battle for pride.
This year, however, there was so much more on the line.
The Braves took charge and picked up a dominating 63-24 win over the Bulldogs, a victory that could go a long way in the end-of-season Winning Percentage Index standings. Because the game was a matchup of Class 3A teams, Mt. Edgecumbe’s win will help to raise their chances in grabbing the one “at-large” playoff berth at the 3A state tournament in March.
And, after losing two straight 3A nonconference games to Homer, the Braves were in need of a boost.
“It’s extremely important,” said Edgecumbe coach Dane Vincent. “We were only one game behind Sitka (in the Southeast Conference standings) before this week.”
There are only two teams in the Southeast Conference, but with the reigning 3A girls state champions Sitka in the mix, the Braves are facing an uphill climb of making the “big dance.”
With the win, Mt. Edgecumbe improved to 4-2 overall this season, while Nikiski dropped to 3-3.
Nikiski coach Scott Anderson said the Bulldogs had trouble with getting their pockets picked on offense, which contributed to several turnovers that resulted in fast-break points.
“They came out really hard and wanting to show that they’re one of the better teams in the state,” Anderson said. “We obviously didn’t shoot very well, but part of that is we have to develop a level of confidence to play like that.”
The game was the first 3A nonconference matchup for Nikiski for the season. Regarding the WPI standings, Anderson said the team is not concerning themselves with the details.
“For us, at this point, we’re not so concerned with the WPI as we are just getting better each game,” he said. “The goal at the end of the year is to be one of those teams that other teams don’t want to play.”
Vincent said the hardest part of Saturday’s game for his team — if there was one — was trying to find energy and intensity after the recent three-week holiday break.
“These players haven’t seen each other since December 19th,” Vincent said. “I met them in the Anchorage airport and we made the trip down to Homer for a pair of games.”
It was in Homer that Mt. Edgecumbe lost both games, a 43-40 loss on Thursday and a 54-40 loss on Friday.
Saturday in Nikiski, Mt. Edgecumbe got off to a fast start and never looked back.
Seven different players scored for the Braves, led by Daisy Hunt’s 13 points. Tessa Coopchiak and Payton Weisz both added 12. Weisz helped to jump-start Mt. Edgecumbe in the first quarter with three 3s.
“It makes it a lot easier when Payton gets open because it opens it up for other players,” Vincent said. “They start focusing on Payton and it lets Tori (Thomas) get inside.”
Thomas contributed eight points for the Braves.
Nikiski was led by Kelsey Clark’s 10 points, while Hallie Riddall added five.
Weisz nailed a triple just 30 seconds into the contest, then connected from long range again barely 90 seconds later to give the Braves an 8-2 lead. Mt. Edgecumbe pushed the lead to 17-2 with 1:14 left in the first quarter before coach Anderson called Nikiski’s second timeout.
Once the Bulldogs began guarding Weisz on the perimeter more closely, it allowed players like Coopchiak and Hunt space to attack the rim. Mt. Edgecumbe led 20-3 after one quarter, then continued to streak away with a 13-4 run in the second quarter on the strength of transition buckets. The Braves led 37-11 at halftime.
Braves 63, Bulldogs 24
Edgecumbe 20 17 10 16 —63
Nikiski 3 8 10 3 —24
MT. EDGECUMBE (63) — Alexie 2 1-2 6, Coopchiak 4 3-3 12, Hunt 4 4-4 13, Saccheus 0 0-2 0, Amaktoolik 3 1-2 7, Charlie 0 0-1 0, Thomas 3 2-2 8, Hall 1 3-6 5, Weisz 4 0-0 12. Totals 21 14-22 63.
NIKISKI (24) — Wik 0 0-0 0, Riddall 2 0-0 5, Vollertson 1 0-0 2, Pitt 1 2-6 4, Kornstad 0 0-0 0, Clark 3 3-4 10, Parrish 0 1-2 1, Jackson 1 0-0 2, Porter 0 0-2 0. Totals 8 6-14 24.
3-point shots — Mt. Edgecumbe 7 (Weisz 4, Alexie 1, Coopchiak 1, Hunt 1); Nikiski 2 (Riddall 1, Clark 1).