Nikiski, Homer hoops teams split

The Nikiski girls hoops squad is piling up victories at a staggering rate this season, but with each passing game, opposing teams are figuring out the Bulldogs’ secrets a little more.

The Bulldogs raced to their 14th straight win Tuesday night at Nikiski High with a 61-36 victory over Southcentral Conference rival Homer.

The win pushed Nikiski’s season record to 17-1 overall, while increasing their conference mark to 7-0. Homer dropped to 2-6 in the conference, 2-16 overall.

Like ships passing each other in the night, the Nikiski and Homer girls teams are both trending in very opposite ways this winter. One year after playing in both the region and state championship games — losing both — the Mariners lost nearly all their starting offense and have racked up a grand total of two total wins.

In previous meetings with Nikiski this season, Homer lost 52-12 and 57-16, so the 36 points the Mariners scored on Nikiski on Tuesday was a telltale sign of their improvements.

Homer head coach Chad Felice said that while the season hasn’t been one to remember, he still believes his current crop of players have proven a lot to him this year while rebuilding for the future.

“This game tonight proved that we’re getting better,” Felice said. “They play hard and do everything I coach them to do.”

Meanwhile, Nikiski has returned after a decent 2015-16 campaign to stamp its name as one of the best Class 3A girls teams in the state. With just one loss to their credit, a 48-44 game to 4A opponent Kenai Central, the Bulldogs have run the table in 3A competition, and are fresh off a tournament championship at Grace Christian last weekend.

But the team will face a big challenge this weekend with home games against Grace and Anchorage Christian schools. ACS was ranked fifth in the latest Win Percentage Index (WPI) standings released on Feb. 8, with Nikiski directly above in fourth.

“Last week was a good confidence builder,” said Nikiski coach Scott Anderson. “They’re a more confident group, they’re competitors, and the goal is to learn something in every game.”

Tuesday night, Nikiski got off to an early start and never looked back as sophomore Bethany Carstens led the way with 24 points in three quarters of play. Carstens amassed 12 points in the first quarter alone. Homer was paced by senior Uliana Reutov with 17 points. Reutov is the lone remaining starter from last year’s state championship final team.

The Bulldogs grabbed a 28-4 lead by the midpoint of the second quarter and led 30-10 at halftime. In the third quarter, Nikiski stretched its lead by outscoring Homer 23-11.

Homer boys 50, Nikiski 45

The Homer boys broke open a defensive slog with a pivotal fourth quarter that sent the Mariners to their fourth win over Nikiski in as many games this year.

While Homer is undefeated against the Bulldogs this season, the competition has nevertheless been fierce. Apart from one 65-38 blowout at home, the Mariners have had to compete to the final seconds in each game, including one overtime contest.

Tuesday, Homer had to contend with the Bulldogs without two valuable starters. Justin Ellison was out after suffering a ligament tear earlier in the season, and Hunter Edens was dealing with an illness. Additionally, several Homer players were affected with a slight sickness, as evidenced by the raspy coughing on the court.

“You’re always a little nervous when you have to beat a team like (Nikiski),” said Homer head coach Weston Carroll.

Homer led 35-34 with just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but a few timely buckets from Koby Etzwiler helped the Mariners stave off the Bulldogs. Etzwiler led his team with 18 points, with nine coming in the fourth quarter.

Ian Johnson scored a game-high 21 points to lead Nikiski, including a 9-for-13 night from the free throw line.

Homer improved to 6-2 in the Southcentral Conference and 8-10 overall with the win.

Carroll said without several of his key players on the court, the win over Nikiski felt extra sweet.

“Some of that senior leadership wasn’t there, but the execution of our offense and minimizing turnovers helped us,” he said.

A late 3-pointer by Garrett Ellis put Nikiski into the lead 18-15 at halftime, but Homer came out charging in the third quarter with a 7-0 run that put the Mariners ahead 22-19. Nikiski came back to tie it on two occasions as Ian Johnson flaunted his muscle in the paint, but Homer kept responding with jumpshots and floaters.

Etzwiler hit a jumper with 5:06 left in the game, then caught a steal and transition bucket on the next possession, hitting the subsequent foul shot to extend the Homer lead to 40-34.

A triple from the top of the arc by Jordan Beachy put the Mariners ahead 43-38 with 2:39 to go, and Nikiski had to start playing the foul game. Johnson and teammate Cody Handley sank 9 of 11 free throws in the final 3:49 of the game, but the Bulldogs offense otherwise had trouble hitting field goals, leading to Homer escaping with the win.

Tuesday boys

Mariners 50, Bulldogs 45

Homer 9 6 14 21 — 50

Nikiski 10 8 9 18 — 45

HOMER (50) — Rohr 1 4-6 6, Etzwiler 6 5-6 18, Adkins 2 0-0 4, Ravin 4 0-1 8, Carroll 2 0-0 4, Davis 0 0-0 0, Beachy 4 0-1 10, McGhee 0 0-0 0, Swoboda 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 9-14 50.

NIKISKI (45) — Johnson 6 9-13 21, Weathers 1 0-0 3, G. Ellis 3 0-0 7, Kornstad 2 0-0 6, B. Ellis 1 0-0 2, Handley 1 4-6 6. Totals 14 13-19 45.

3-point goals — Homer 3 (Beachy 2, Etzwiler 1); Nikiski 4 (Kornstad 2, G. Ellis 1, Weathers 1).

Team fouls — Homer 15; Nikiski 13. Fouled out — Adkins.

Tuesday girls

Bulldogs 61, Mariners 36

Homer 4 6 11 15 — 36

Nikiski 22 8 23 8 — 61

HOMER (36) — Sonnen 1 0-0 2, Carroll 1 0-0 2, Reutov 8 0-0 17 Metz 0 0-0 0, Knott 0 0-0 0, Doughty 1 0-0 2, Todd 2 0-2 4, Parish 2 0-0 4, Bales 0 0-0 0, Gillette 0 0-0 0, Veldstra 1 0-0 3, Cole 0 0-0 0, Box 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 0-2 36.

NIKISKI (61) — Wik 3 0-0 8, Pitt 0 0-0 0, Vollertsen 2 0-2 4, Johnson 1 2-2 4, Carstens 9 6-8 24, Kornstad 2 1-2 6, Clark 4 0-0 8, Jackson 1 0-0 3, Porter 0 0-0 0, Bostic 1 2-2 4, Druesdow 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 11-16 61.

3-point goals — Homer 2 (Veldstra 1, Reutov 1); Nikiski 4 (Wik 2, Kornstad 1, Jackson 1).

Team fouls — Homer 12; Nikiski 10. Fouled out — none.

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