After seeing their chances of winning a state title fall by the wayside Monday night, Nikolaevsk girls coach Bea Klaich reminded her team Tuesday morning that playing for as long as they can in the consolation bracket of the Class 1A state tournament is just as essential to reloading for next season.
“It’s important to finish strong,” Klaich said. “It’s something for next year that we can build on.”
It was the driving force behind Tuesday’s 42-39 consolation semifinal win over Shishmaref, which leaves the Warriors with a 9:30 a.m. Wednesday matchup with Newhalen. The winner of that game earns fourth-place honors.
Nikolaevsk junior Serafima Kalugin, who Klaich acknowledged had an off game on Monday, caught fire Tuesday with 14 points on 7-of-13 shooting, and eight rebounds.
Class 1A girls player of the year Denise Fernandez of Shishmaref was held to nine points on 1-for-9 shooting, which Klaich attributed to fantastic defensive work by freshman Vera Fefelov.
“Vera, my freshman, stopped her,” Klaich said proudly. “I know she didn’t get what she normally gets.”
With Fernandez being held in check for the majority of the contest, the Northern Lights instead looked to Kelly Ningeulook for scoring. Ningeulook led Shishmaref with 16 points.
In their usual style of starting slow but building momentum, the Warriors overcame an early eight-point deficit to forge a 23-all tie at halftime, shooting 52 percent and grabbing 11 more rebounds than Shishmaref along the way.
Nikolaevsk exploded out of the gate in the second half with 10 straight points, including two consecutive possessions that started with a half-court steal and finished with a layup. By the end of the third quarter, the Warriors had opened up a 37-27 lead.
Klaich said one year ago against Buckland, she had her players attacking, but Buckland continued to grab rebounds and still managed to close the gap. This year against Shishmaref, Nikolaevsk held a nine-point lead with under six minutes to go.
“This year I wanted the girls to keep shooting, but to spread the court, make good passes, move the ball and finish shots,” Klaich said. “Unfortunately, they made some turnovers when they went into that semi-stall offense, and Shishmaref kept alive.”
The Northern Lights pressed the Warriors into making turnovers, which resulted in transition layups that closed the gap to 39-37 with 2:02 to play, a run that was capped by two consecutive buckets by Hillary Sinnok.
Megan Hickman stopped that run with a layup that put Nikolaevsk back up by four, but Jessica Kuzuguk responded after a timeout with a layup of her own to cut the gap to 41-39.
In the final 10 seconds, Kilina Klaich stepped up to the free-throw line, hit the first shot, then grabbed the rebound on the miss to seal the win.
“It’ll be a good way to finish state, and knowing that we lost one that we could’ve won yesterday, I want the girls to keep fighting hard and work hard to get back here next year and so some damage,” coach Klaich said.
Warriors 42, Northern Lights 39
Nikolaevsk 8 15 14 5 —42
Shishmaref 12 11 4 12 —39
NIKOLAEVSK (42) — Ki. Klaich 3 0-1 7, Kr. Klaich 0 0-0 0, Fefelov 1 0-0 2, Johnson 3 0-0 6, Kalugin 7 0-2 14, N. Gordeev 4 0-0 8, Hickman 2 1-2 5. Totals 20 1-5 42.
SHISHMAREF (39) — Olanna 0 0-0 0, Kakoona 0 0-0 0, Kuzuguk 3 0-1 6, Iyatunguk 0 0-0 0, Nayokpuk 1 0-0 2, Fernandez 1 6-6 9, Sinnok 3 0-0 6, Nayokpuk 0 0-0 0, Ningeulook 7 1-2 16. Totals 15 7-9 39.
3-point goals — Nikolaevsk 1 (Ki. Klaich); Shishmaref 2 (Fernandez 1, Ningeulook 1). Fouled out — Nayokpuk.