Friday’s Southcentral Conference matchup between host Nikiski and Seward featured a pair of blowouts — one not-so-surprising and the other surprising.
The Nikiski girls notched a 66-20 win in the game that falls into the not-so-surprising category. The Bulldogs are now 6-0 in the league and 18-2 overall, while the Seahawks have just two wins this season, both out of league. On Jan. 10, Nikiski topped Seward 66-38.
The Seward boys came back with a 55-26 victory in the contest that was surprising. On Jan. 10, Nikiski took a 48-45 decision in Seward. The teams also have comparable records — Seward at 3-3 and 10-11, and Nikiski at 4-2 and 6-10.
“I thought Seward came ready to play,” Nikiski boys head coach Reid Kornstad said. “They played with intensity and we were never able to match that intensity.”
Seward led 8-0 before Nikiski scored and then 15-4 with 2 minutes, 59 seconds, left in the first quarter.
The earlier season result had the feel in the air that a Nikiski run would come eventually, but the lead kept climbing. 20-7 after a quarter. 32-10 at the half. 46-19 after three quarters.
“We worked really well together as a team,” Seward head coach Al Plan said. “When we do that, we put points on the board and play tough defense.
“We get disjointed when we try to do too much as individuals.”
The Seahawks were strong on the offensive glass all night, leading to multiple second-chance points. Plan said Connor Spanos (14 points), Bjorn Nillson (14 points), Max Pfeiffenberger (13 points) and Josh Jarvis led the rebounding parade.
Plan said the Seahawks don’t have a lot of height or bulk, so they’ve worked hard on rebounding in practice. Kornstad said his team usually scores in the 40s, so offensive execution has been the focus in practice.
“We’ve been working on offensive execution, but maybe this says, ‘Coach, wake up and work on rebounding,’” Kornstad said.
Plan said the win was special because all but two or three of his nine players were in the various stages of a bout with the flu.
“A bunch of the guys were sick, but they didn’t play like it,” he said.
Seward even pressed, getting some key turnovers early, before falling back into a 1-3-1 zone to conserve energy. Kornstad said his team missed outside shots early attacking the zone and never got confident, failing to hit 10 points in any of the periods.
Plan also said Nikiski is different without Noah Litke, the 5-foot-11 junior who missed the game due to injury.
“It’s not a 29-point difference, but he’s the kind of kid who can change the momentum when you’re on an 8-0 run,” Plan said.
Despite a night where nothing went right, Kornstad sees hope.
“As much adversity as we went through, the team didn’t turn on each other,” he said.
Nikiski girls 66, Seward 20
Coming off a heady 57-49 over Class 4A powerhouse Wasilla on Thursday, Nikiski head coach Rustin Hitchcock successfully guarded against a letdown Friday.
Hitchcock used the “Return of the Jedi” clip of Admiral Ackbar saying, “It’s a trap,” to set the tone for the game.
The coach wanted to keep the mood light but also stress the importance of continuing to improve as the postseason nears.
Nikiski came out and led 20-6 after the first quarter and 44-11 at halftime in totally avoiding the trap.
The Seahawks tried a box-in-one to contain Bethany Carstens. Carstens got the rest of the team involved quickly and the Bulldogs rained eight 3-pointers on the night.
Bethany Carstens still got her 16, while Lillian Carstens hit three treys en route to 15, Emma Wik hit two treys and finished with eight points, and Kelsey Clark found the space for 11 points.
“It was our best 3-point shooting performance of the season,” Hitchcock said.
Seward coach Curtis Berry said trying to stop a great player like Bethany Carstens requires leaving other things open.
“They took advantage of the opportunities we gave them,” Berry said.
Hitchcock said his squad executed up and down the lineup, with super substitutes Lillian Carstens and Kaitlyn Johnson once again doing their jobs.
“They can play any position and that’s why they’re so valuable,” Hitchcock said. “They make the starters that much more effective.”
Both coaches agreed the young Seahawks are on the rise. Berry said his team is improving on the fundamentals and getting better at not panicking with the ball.
“We were down 40 points and they were still all on the floor for loose balls and tie-ups,” Berry said. “What else can I ask of them?”
Riley Von Borstel paced the Seahawks with eight points.
Bulldogs 66, Seahawks 20
Seward 6 5 5 4 — 20
Nikiski 20 24 18 3 — 66
SEWARD (20) — Lemme 0, Ambrosiani 3, Schilling 0, Von Borstel 8, Sieverts 0 Jackson 4, Dougherty 0, Casagranda 3, Sewell 3, Siemanski 2. Totals — 5 9-16 20.
NIKISKI (66) — Jeffreys 1, Wik 8, L. Carstens 15, Johnson 2, B. Carstens 16, B. Epperheimer 2, Clark 11, Druesedow 5, Mullin 0, Reichert 3, Zimmerman 3, S. Epperheimer 0. Totals — 21 16-22 66.
3-point goals — Seward 1 (Von Borstel); Nikiski 8 (L. Carstens 3, Wik 2, B. Carstens, Druesdow, Reichert). Team fouls — Seward 21, Nikiski 17. Fouled out — Sieverts.
Seahawks 55, Bulldogs 26
Seward 20 12 14 9 — 55
Nikiski 7 3 9 7 — 26
SEWARD (55) — Basalo 0, Koster 7, Moriarity 2, Cronin 0, Ingalls 3, Pfeiffenberger 13, Spanos 14, Jarvis 2, Nillson 14. Totals — 24 4-5 55.
NIKISKI (26) — Mysing 10, Weathers 0, Smith 0, Kornstad 8, White 0, Handley 2, Payne 0, DeSiena 0, Gray 0, Malston 0, Eiter 6, McCaughey 0. Totals — 10 3-4 26.
3-point goals — Seward 3 (Koster, Ingalls, Pfeiffenberger); Nikiski 3 (Kornstad 2, Mysing). Team fouls — Seward 5, Nikiski 10. Fouled out — none.