As quick as they appeared, the Nikiski girls’ state dreams vanished Thursday evening in a 55-41 quarterfinal loss to the Barrow Whalers at the Class 3A state tournament.
Instead of fighting for a state championship, the Bulldogs will begin their journey to claim fourth-place honors starting today at 8 a.m. against Kotzebue.
Under the bright lights of the Alaska Airlines Center, the Nikiski girls could never find a rhythm against a stout Barrow contingent, as the Whalers powered to an 11-0 lead in the first quarter and never trailed. Barrow will face the top-seeded Anchorage Christian girls in the state semifinals.
“This is a way different defensive team,” said Whalers head coach Chad Bunselmeier. “Nikiski scored 29 points in the first half the last time we played them, and they had 16 tonight.”
Nikiski prevailed 57-51 over Barrow in their most recent meeting in mid-February.
Thursday, the Bulldogs had particular trouble stopping Whalers senior Kuutuuq Danner, who scored 19 points and seven rebounds to lead Barrow to the win.
Meanwhile, Nikiski’s top scorer, 3A Girls Player of the Year Bethany Carstens, was held to eight points and five boards before fouling out with four minutes left and Nikiski trailing by nine.
“Bethany is a great player,” Bunselmeier said. “The team works around her, and to shut her down is big.”
Nikiski head coach Scott Anderson said once Nikiski fell into an early hole, Barrow was able to control the tempo and run its offense.
“I think we came out jittery, with a deer-in-the-headlights look,” Anderson said. “We were playing from behind, which makes it more difficult.”
Emma Wik led the Nikiski offense with nine points, while bench player Angela Druesedow hit a pair of 3-pointers to notch seven.
Barrow jumped out to an early lead, helped by superior rebounding. The Whalers ultimately won the battle on the glass by a 22-17 margin and got 10 of their boards on the offensive glass. When Danner wasn’t driving the lane for buckets, she was dishing it to Milya Wright for points in the paint. Wright finished with 13.
The turning point in the game came on an 8-0 Barrow run spanning the third and fourth quarters after Nikiski had cut the gap to four points. Lillian Carstens and Rylee Jackson mirrored each other with corner 3s to cut Barrow’s lead to 36-32 with 1:15 left in the third, but the Whalers caught a second wind, starting with a driving layup by Wright. Danner hit consecutive buckets to keep the momentum going and Becca Gerke laid in a baseline drive with six minutes left in the fourth, and suddenly Barrow held a daunting 12-point advantage.
“Hats off to them, they’ve been here the last four years,” Anderson said. “We just couldn’t catch a break.”
Nikiski fought back against Barrow’s stingy half-court press, but couldn’t come up with an answer. Clark laid in a floater with 2:53 left to cut the lead to 47-40, but that would be as close as the Bulldogs would get.
Bethany Carstens fouled out of the game with four minutes to go, and with 1:43 to play, Wright connected on a spectacular driving layup to notch the dagger.
Danner scored eight of Barrow’s first 11 points of the game with two triples. The Whalers led 13-4 after one quarter and 22-16 at halftime.
The Bulldogs had trouble stringing together enough points at a time to seriously threaten Barrow in the second half, but tried their best from the perimeter. Clark, Druesedow, Lillian Carstens and Jackson all connected from beyond the arc in the third quarter to prevent Barrow from running away with it.
However, the Whalers used 54 percent shooting in the second half to stave off the Bulldogs. Plus, Barrow had 11 free throws on 19 attempts.
Starting with an early morning matchup today, Anderson said Nikiski’s goal is to play Saturday. A loss today eliminates Nikiski.
“It’s about who really wants it more,” Anderson said. “They have to want it in their hearts.”
Whalers 55, Bulldogs 41
Nikiski 4 12 16 9 —41
Barrow 13 9 16 17 —55
NIKISKI (41) — Jeffreys 0 0-0 0, Wik 3 2-2 9, L. Carstens 2 0-0 5, Bostic 2 0-0 4, Johnson 0 0-0 0, B. Carstens 4 0-0 8, Epperheimer 0 0-0 0, Clark 2 0-0 5, Druesedow 2 1-4 7, Jackson 1 0-0 3. Totals 16 3-6 41.
BARROW (55) — Kaleak 0 0-0 0, Danner 8 1-2 19, Brower 1 0-0 3, Mongoyak-Brower 0 0-0 0, Gerke 1 2-4 4, Wright 4 4-6 13, Ahgeak 2 4-6 8, Kagak 0 0-0 0, Wolgemuth 0 0-0 0, Lavelua 1 0-0 2, Tulai 3 0-1 6. Totals 20 11-19 55.
3-point goals — Nikiski 6 (Druesedow 2, Wik 1, L. Carstens 1, Clark 1, Jackson 1); Barrow 4 (Danner 2, Brower 1, Wright 1).