Too bad the Nikiski and Soldotna girls don’t play in the same class or conference. It would make games like Thursday’s all the more special.
The Class 3A Nikiski Bulldogs flaunted their muscle with a thrilling 48-46 nonconference victory on home court over the 4A Soldotna Stars.
America Jeffreys played the heroine role by laying in the go-ahead bucket with 3.2 seconds left in regulation, receiving a half-court assist from Kelsey Clark as both teams raced across court after an inbounds pass, then getting fouled on the shot.
Prior to that, Nikiski was trailing by 1 but after Jeffreys made the basket and the ensuing free throw to put the Bulldogs up two, and a last-second desperation trey from SoHi junior Ituau Tuisaula came up short.
Jeffreys said it was one of the biggest shots of her life.
“Probably,” she said when asked about it. “I’m not a big shooter on the team, I’m more of a defensive player.”
It was one of only two made field goals by Jeffreys on the night, as the diminutive guard finished with five points. The Bulldogs were led by senior Emma Wik, who tallied 15 points, and senior Bethany Carstens, who finished with 12 on 6-for-6 shooting from the foul line.
Tuisaula dominated the paint for the Stars and finished with a game-high 26, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the late magic from Nikiski.
“We got lost ball-watching,” said SoHi head coach Kyle McFall. “One of our players got lost on that last play and left (Jeffreys) open.”
The SoHi girls fell to 22-3 overall with the loss, while Nikiski moved to 20-3 in a showcase between two of the better teams in both Class 4A and 3A. McFall said he felt his Stars lacked motivation entering the contest, leading to the loss with just one game left in the regular season, but said he believes his squad can recover with bigger games on the horizon.
“We didn’t come out with the energy, I think we lacked a little focus,” McFall said. “I’m hoping this will wake us up.”
Nikiski coach Rustin Hitchcock said the Bulldogs used some knowledge gained from last week’s loss to Anchorage Christian School to suffocate the Stars in the end, adding that the goal for the Bulldogs in the final two minutes was to work for the last shot of the game.
“We wanted the last shot on our home floor,” Hitchcock said. “We used this same press break we had against ACS, and Kelsey absolutely threw a dime to get it to (America).”
Clark buried a 3-pointer with one second left in the first half to tie it up at 19 apiece heading to the locker rooms. Nikiski led through most of the third quarter but a late spurt by SoHi put the Stars ahead 30-29 going to the fourth.
Tuisaula then took command early in the fourth quarter to put SoHi ahead 36-31, but Carstens got the Bulldogs back into it with a pair of drives to the rim for a 37-36 lead with 4:37 left in the game.
With 18 seconds left in a tie game, Wik was fouled and hit one of two free throws to put Nikiski ahead 45-44, but Tuisaula answered back with two made free throws of her own with 9.8 ticks remaining for a SoHi lead. Tuisaula finished 12 for 15 from the free throw line
That set up Jeffreys crowd-pleasing shot with just 3.2 seconds left.
Soldotna boys 64, Nikiski 42
The SoHi boys dug themselves from an early double-digit hole to secure a nonconference win Thursday night at Nikiski.
The Bulldogs came out shooting lights out and opened up a 19-4 lead, but SoHi rallied back to cut it to 31-30 at halftime, then outscored Nikiski 16-6 in the third quarter to help seal the win.
Jersey Truesdell hit four 3’s to finish with 24 points, while teammate Ray Chumley posted a big game with 16 points. Nikiski was paced by Jace Kornstad’s 16 points and Cody Handley’s nine. Kornstad hit four treys in the first half en route to 14 by halftime.
Soldotna coach Nolan Rose said the sluggish start has been a trend this season for the Stars, but praised the team defense in the second half.
“We’ve got a mature team,” Rose said. “We’ve played a lot of tough teams this year, and we knew if we settled down and made some defensive stops, things would turn for us.”
Michael Eiter’s triple with 2:40 left in the first quarter put Nikiski up 19-4, and the lead was 27-15 as late as 5:00 left in the first half, but the Stars outscored the Bulldogs 38-10 by the time five minutes were left in the fourth quarter.
Nikiski head coach Reid Kornstad said the swing of momentum was almost impossible to stop once it began.
“It’s super fun to come out hot like that,” Kornstad said. “But in any basketball game, it’s not realistic to stay that hot. It’s a difficult emotion to rebound after getting everything so easy, then looking up at the scoreboard and seeing everything go your way, to seeing them fight back.”
Bulldogs 48, Stars 46
Soldotna 12 7 11 16 —46
Nikiski 10 9 10 19 —48
SOLDOTNA (46) — McGillivray 0, Blossom 7, A. Schmidt 6, Bouschor 1, Tuisaula 26, Holland 0, Crosby-Schneider 0, D. Schmidt 6.
NIKISKI (48) — Jeffreys 5, Wik 15, L. Carstens 4, Bostic 0, Johnson 3, B. Carstens 12, Epperheimer 0, Clark 6, Druesedow 3, Zimmerman 0.
3-point FG — Soldotna 0; Nikiski 3 (Wik 2, Clark 1).
Team fouls — Soldotna 15; Nikiski 18. Fouled out — L. Carstens, A. Schmidt.
Stars 64, Bulldogs 42
Soldotna 10 20 16 18 —64
Nikiski 19 12 6 5 —42
SOLDOTNA (64) — Rich 0, Metcalf 0, Bouschor 0, Morrison 6, Hanson 7, Chumley 16, Truesdell 24, Kant 2, Wells 0, Rosin 0, Michael 9, Denna 0.
NIKISKI (42) — Mysing 6, Weathers 2, Smith 0, Kornstad 16, Handley 9, Litke 0, Payne 0, DeSiena 1, Gray 0, Malston 0, Eiter 8, McCaughey 0.
3-point FG — Soldotna 7 (Truesdell 4, Chumley 3); Nikiski 7 (Kornstad 4, Eiter 2, Handley 1).