Nikiski gives Romans a warm welcome, then defeats him

Nikiski gives Romans a warm welcome, then defeats him

Six years after he ended a 20-season run with the Bulldogs that included 12 Southcentral Conference basketball crowns and eight Class 3A state basketball championships, Ward Romans returned with his new team, the Grace Christian Grizzlies, to the same Nikiski gym in which he cultivated so many great hoops teams for a Friday night Southcentral Conference showdown.

In the end, Romans’ old team prevailed 41-23.

For Romans, the loss didn’t appear to faze him. Not with over half the entire crowd approaching him for handshakes and warm welcomes before and after the game.

“There are special relationships here, and that’s really special, to come back and see the people that have all the memories stirred up from the years I spent here,” Romans said.

Friday was the first time Romans has been back to Nikiski for a basketball event. Before then, he could count on one hand the number of times he’s returned to visit the tightknit community.

During his tenure, Romans coached the Nikiski girls to 17 straight state appearances and 18 total, and apparently the home crowd hasn’t forgotten that. In pregame introductions, Nikiski school principal Dan Carstens announced Romans name with an especially enthusiastic vibe, inciting the fans.

With current Nikiski coach and good friend Scott Anderson standing on the other side of the scorers table, Romans got to feel what it was like from the other perspective.

“It’s always special when you see Ward Romans in the Nikiski gym,” Anderson said. “We love him and think he’s the greatest. We wish we could see him more often.”

Even in the pregame coaches handshake, Anderson and Romans were catching up on old times.

“We just talked about how things are going with our lives,” Anderson said. “Even though we’re coaching for different teams, we’re still coaching together. That’s one of the neat things about friendships, you can still be together even when you work for different schools and different teams.”

As far as the game was concerned, Romans said was busy enough trying to point his new team in the right direction to notice if any of his old plays or coaching philosophies were still in use.

“I’m so focused on the group I’m coaching now,” he said. “Scott is a fantastic coach. They play outstanding defense and rebounded well and executed and did all the things they wanted to do. That’s a credit to their coaching and the girls’ faith and belief in what he’s teaching.”

The win completed a season sweep for Nikiski over Grace, and ultimately landed the Bulldogs the top seed in the Southcentral Conference tournament, which begins Thursday in Homer.

Saturday, the visiting ACS girls bolted to a 13-5 lead after the first quarter, then added a 17-7 third-quarter spurt to notch the 38-29 victory over the Bulldogs.

Caroline Bowden had 14 points for the Lions, while Raven Thibodeaux added 12. For Nikiski, Rachel Thompson led the way with nine points.

With Grace’s victory in Seward, this left both teams at 8-4 atop the conference, but Nikiski took the No. 1 seed due to the season sweep. Nikiski is 16-6 overall, while Grace is 18-4.

Nikiski has a first-round bye and opens Friday at 3 p.m. against the ACS-Seward winner.

The Friday game, which Nikiski led wire-to-wire, turned from an edgy, defensive struggle for possession to a blowout in a matter of minutes.

Following a floater from Sarah Laker with 2:50 left in the third quarter that closed Grace’s deficit to 26-16, Nikiski found a nice groove and went on a tear, scoring 14 unanswered points in the span of 3 minutes, 43 seconds, to grab a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Nikiski senior Chena Litzen knocked in three clutch jumpers to tally eight points during that run, and ended with 10 points total to lead her team. Bulldogs teammate Alison Litke scored nine points, Hallie Riddall added eight and Rachel Thompson was held to seven points.

“They’re just very patient,” Romans said about the Nikiski surge. “They execute their offense just as well as any team we’ve faced throughout the year.”

Mikayla Shamburger scored 10 points to lead the Grace Christian offense.

For Nikiski, the key to solving Grace’s defense was literally the key. Thompson, Litke and Arianne Parrish cut to the basket with efficiency, allowing the Bulldogs to build a quick lead in the first quarter and sustain it throughout.

On the other end, Nikiski frustrated the Grizzlies with steals and transition points. Anderson said it was Nikiski’s defense that was most similar to what Romans employed years ago.

“They really played tough defense,” Anderson said. “All the years of watching him coach, those teams were always going to play great on the defensive end, so we try to model ourselves after that.”

Grace boys 70, Nikiski 62

A month after being handed a 27-point loss to Grace Christian, the Nikiski boys came out with a high-flying aerial attack Friday night against the Grizzlies, only to come up short again.

This time, however, the Bulldogs tested Grace all the way to the final seconds.

“Nikiski’s a tough team and they were able to use their toughness and physicality to their advantage tonight,” said Grace coach Jason Boerger. “The difference in the games really showed. They have strength and they were able to use it tonight.”

Nikiski dropped in an impressive 12 3s — more than half their total field goals — led by Cade Anderson, who scored all 18 of his team-high points on six shots from behind the arc. The Bulldogs also got 11 points apiece from Hunter Holloway and Sam Tauriainen.

Grace took 31 shots from the free-throw line, converting on 23. Freshman guard Tobin Karlberg went 7 for 11 himself from the line to lead Grace with a game-high 23 points. Teammate Ryan Sheldon added 14 and Trevor Osborne chipped in 13.

Anderson helped the Bulldogs to a quick start, hitting a pair of treys in the first quarter that helped put Nikiski ahead 21-11 before seven minutes were up. Holloway capped an 11-0 run with a booming triple near the end of the frame.

“He had a great shooting night and we tried to attack him pretty tight,” Boerger said of Anderson. “He was able to get some great looks. We’ve gotta continue to do a better job of locking down people on defense.”

Nikiski pumped in 21 points in the first quarter to take a six-point lead, but Grace responded with a 23-point second quarter.

“I’m just pleased that we’re in the middle of this road trip and guys kept their composure and attitudes,” Boerger said. “Nikiski shot well, and we rode that storm out, and there was a pretty good amount of maturity being shown by the guys.”

After a buzzer-beater floater by Nathan Carstens gave Nikiski a 40-38 halftime lead, Grace returned for the second half fired up. Karlberg and Osborne both nailed 3-pointers in the first 70 seconds of the third quarter to put Grace into the lead. The points were a part of a 10-2 run by the Grizzlies to start the second half.

As the game transitioned into the fourth quarter, things got intense. Tauriainen sank a trey with 5:26 to play that tied the game at 58. However, Kyle Murray responded immediately with a go-ahead layup on the next possession, and was followed by Karlberg’s drive down the lane that made it a two-possession game.

Tauriainen continued his late-game heroics with another triple that closed the gap to 63-61 with 1:36 remaining. Grace coughed up the ball on its ensuing possession, leading to a drive to the basket by Javon Pamplin and a foul. Pamplin connected on one of his two free throws to close the gap to 63-62 with 1:10 left.

That would be the closest Nikiski got to the lead, as the Grizzlies finished off with seven straight points on free throws, while Nikiski failed to score down the stretch.

Saturday, the host Nikiski boys lost 64-43 to Grace Anchorage Christian Schools.

“The reality is we expended a lot of emotion Friday and didn’t come out with a lot of fire,” Kornstad said. “We were hanging in there for a while, but they slipped a way with a run at the end.”

Bobby Wilson had 20 points for the Lions, while Levi Auble had 13 and Trey Huckabay added 12.

For the Bulldogs, Cade Anderson had 13 points.

ACS finished 9-3 in the league and has the second seed, while Grace is the top seed at 10-2. The Bulldogs are seeded sixth with a 2-10 league record and open against third-seeded Homer on Thursday at 8:15 p.m.

Friday girls

Bulldogs 41, Grizzlies 23

Grace 5 5 6 7 —23

Nikiski 9 11 9 12 —41

NIKISKI (41) — Parrish 2 0-0 4, Riddall 4 0-0 8, Pitt 0 1-2 1, Litke 4 0-0 9, Kornstad 1 0-0 2, Thompson 4 2-3 10, Litzen 4 2-3 10. Totals 18 4-7 41.

GRACE (23) — Vanderweide 2 1-2 6, Hagen 1 1-2 3, Hogan 0 0-0 0, Logan 1 0-0 2, Lindfors 0 0-0 0, Ackerman 0 0-0 0, Laker 1 0-0 2, Shamburger 4 2-2 10. Totals 9 4-6 23.

3-point goals — Nikiski 1 (Litke); Grace 1 (Vanderweide). Fouled out — none.

Friday boys

Grizzlies 70, Bulldogs 62

Grace 15 23 15 17 —70

Nikiski 21 19 12 10 —62

NIKISKI (62) — Anderson 6 0-0 18, Johnson 2 0-0 4, Holloway 3 3-3 11, Malston 0 0-0 0, Tauriainen 4 0-0 11, N. Carstens 4 0-0 9, Jackson 1 0-0 2, Pamplin 2 3-4 7, B. Carstens 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 6-7 62.

GRACE (70) — Osborne 4 4-4 13, Shamburger 0 0-0 0, McGovern 3 1-1 7, Neider 0 4-4 4, VanderWeide 0 2-2 2, Murray 2 3-6 7, Karlberg 7 7-11 23, Sheldon 6 2-3 14. Totals 22 23-31 70.

3-point goals — Nikiski 12 (Anderson 6, Tauriainen 3, Holloway 2, Carstens 1); Grace 3 (Karlberg 2, Osborne 1). Fouled out — Tauriainen.

Saturday girls

Lions 38, Bulldogs 29

ACS 13 2 17 6 —38

Nikiski 5 4 7 13 —29

ANCHORAGE CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS (38) — Bowden 6 0-0 14, Land 2 1-2 5, Williams 2 0-0 4, Carr 1 0-0 3, Thibodeaux 4 3-7 12. Totals — 15 4-9 38.

NIKISKI (29) — Parrish 0 0-0 0, Riddall 2 2-2 6, Pitt 0 0-0 0, Litke 3 0-0 8, Kornstad 0 0-0 0, Thompson 4 0-1 9, Litzen 3 0-0 6. Totals — 12 2-3 29.

3-point goals — ACS 4 (Bowden 2, Carr, Thibodeaux); Nikiski 3 (Litke 2, Thompson). Team fouls — ACS 9, Nikiski 7. Fouled out — none.

Saturday boys

Lions 64, Bulldogs 43

ACS 22 15 10 17 —64

Nikiski 14 13 9 7 —43

ANCHORAGE CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS (64) — Gatkuoth 1 0-0 3, Huckabay 5 1-3 12, Miller 0 0-0 0, Bronson 4 1-2 9, Scott 0 2-2 2, Wilson 9 2-6 20, Kohutek 1 3-4 5, Auble 5 0-0 13. Totals — 25 9-17 64.

NIKISKI (43) — Anderson 5 1-2 13, L. Johnson 4 0-0 8, Holloway 2 1-2 6, Malston 0 0-0 0, Tauriainen 1 0-0 2, N. Carstens 3 0-0 7, Jackson 0 1-2 1, Pamplin 2 0-0 4, B. Carstens 1 0-0 2. Totals — 18 3-6 43.

3-point goals — ACS 5 (Auble 3, Huckabay, Gatkuoth); Nikiski 4 (Anderson, Holloway, N. Carstens). Team fouls — ACS 12, Nikiski 16. Fouled out — none.

Nikiski gives Romans a warm welcome, then defeats him
Nikiski gives Romans a warm welcome, then defeats him

More in Sports

Soldotna's Wayne Mellon works to a pin of Kenai Central's Zoticus Active at 189 pounds in a dual meet at Soldotna High School on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi wrestling honors seniors in matchup with Kenai

Thanksgiving weekend gives many the opportunity to see family. The holiday gave… Continue reading

tease
Strausbaugh, Hippchen take Turkey Skate

Soldotna hosted Kenai Central for the Turkey Skate at Tsalteshi Trails on… Continue reading

Kenai Central's Sawyer Vann controls Nikiski's Wyatt Maguire at 125 pounds Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at Nikiski High School in Nikiski, Alaska. Vann notched a 7-6 victory. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Area wrestlers collect mat time before Thanksgiving break

Area wrestlers got in some mat time Tuesday before the Thanksgiving break.… Continue reading

Assistant coach Taylor Shaw leads the Kenai River Brown Bears during a game Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, against the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Brown Bears start search for new head coach

The Kenai River Brown Bears issued a press release Friday about staff… Continue reading

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Bryce Monrean tries to find a way through the defense of the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues during a first-period power play Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Jr. Blues come back to take series from Bears

The Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues lost not only a 2020-21 season to… Continue reading

Soldotna junior Liam Babitt holds a grip on South Anchorage’s Britten Hamilton during the 215-pound final of the Lancer Smith Fall Varsity 2021 Invite on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 at the Menard Arena in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Jeremiah Bartz/Frontiersman)
Soldotna crowns 4 champions at Lancer Smith

The Soldotna wrestling team finished fourth Friday and Saturday at the Lancer… Continue reading

tease
Hockey roundup: SoHi sweeps in Kodiak; West wins End of Road tourney

The Soldotna hockey team swept Kodiak in the first high school games… Continue reading

A brown bear feeds on a salmon. (Photo by C. Canterbury/USFWS)
Refuge Notebook: Bears, uniquely built to respond to winter

With the new snow and temperatures dipping into the single digits, you… Continue reading

Kenai Central's Caden Warren surveys the ice against West at the End of the Road Tournament at Kevin Bell Arena in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Kenai, Homer hockey lose to open tourney

The Kenai Central and Homer hockey teams both opened the End of… Continue reading

Caden Triggs of the Kenai River Brown Bears celebrates his first-period goal against the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Brown Bears topple Jr. Blues

By JEFF HELMINIAK Peninsula Clarion The Kenai River Brown Bears received two… Continue reading

Michael proposes to Sarah at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Out of the Office: Falling in love one snowflake at a time

Do you want to know what I’ve been looking forward to the… Continue reading