The state dream expired Thursday morning for the Nikolaevsk Warriors at the Class 1A girls state basketball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
Doomed with a slow start, Nikolaevsk was unable to dig itself out of a hole against third-seeded Tri-Valley, which advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in school history.
The best Nikolaevsk can finish is fourth place, and will start with an 8 a.m. semifinal against the Buckland Sissuani.
Tri-Valley is headlined by one of the tallest 1A threats in sophomore center Rachel Cockman, who drubbed Nikolaevsk with 24 points and 23 rebounds, and had already tallied a double-double by halftime.
Warriors head coach Bea Klaich praised her team for executing a strategy of holding down the rest of Tri-Valley’s role players at the cost of leaving Cockman with a little more space.
“I told them that Rachel’s going to score, and we’re going to live with that,” Klaich said. “But we’ve got to stop the role players.”
The plan helped Nikolaevsk stay within striking distance of Tri-Valley but never close enough to topple the team.
Nikolaevsk’s tall center Elizabeth Fefelov poured in 19 points to lead the Warriors while also bringing down six rebounds, while teammate Justina Fefelov notched 10 points, Sophia Klaich grabbed five boards and Markiana Yakunin swiped six steals.
“I thought the girls played really hard, they never stopped pressing,” Klaich said. “It came down to not making our shots when we needed to.”
Tri-Valley head coach Selena Dixon said the defensive versality helps her squad thrive on a bright stage like the state tournament and the changing schemes kept Tri-Valley ahead of the Warriors.
“The girls are willing to move into whatever defense we need to, to take care of whatever team we come up against,” Dixon said. “We started in a 2-3 look, then decided to go full-court man. I knew that we could tire them down.”
Tri-Valley jumped out to a 19-9 lead in the first quarter, then pushed it to 24-11 halfway through the second, but both Fefelovs helped Nikolaevsk claw back in the second quarter with all nine team points. At halftime, the lead was 26-18 with Tri-Valley in front.
Tri-Valley jumped out to a fast start, however, in the third quarter with a seven-point unanswered run to take a 33-18 advantage. That, combined with Nikolaevsk’s cold 17 percent shooting in the second half, made life tough on the Warriors.
“I talked to the girls about offseason,” Klaich said. “If you want to be great, you have to work offseason. If you want to be mediocre, then don’t work offseason.”
Cockman went down with a turned ankle early in the fourth quarter with Tri-Valley up 37-21, and during her absence Nikolaevsk was able to close the gap a bit to 37-27 with five minutes left in the game, but Cockman returned with 2:30 remaining to put a stop to the bleeding.
“We definitely knew Tri-Valley was respecting us when they put Rachel back in,” Klaich said. “I was glad to see her come back in.”
Nikolaevsk boys 62, Lumen Christi 61, OT
The Warrior boys survived another day in the Class 1A state consolation bracket with a wild overtime victory over familiar opponent Lumen Christi.
Down three points late in regulation, Lumen Christi tied it on a 3-pointer by freshman Brenden Gregory with 2.1 seconds left to force overtime, then took a lead in the extra, four-minute period.
But with two starters fouled out, Nikolaevsk senior Michael Trail took advantage and put in the last two buckets for the Warriors, including the go-ahead shot with five seconds left on an inbounds play from Lukah Kalugin, which was enough to secure the victory.
Survive and advance.
“It gives me a little higher spirits than we had yesterday,” Trail said. “Today, we played like we usually do, and that’s all we can do.”
Nikolaevsk will face Kotlik Savoonga 11 a.m. Friday with a chance to play in Saturday’s consolation championship.
Trail led the Warriors with 29 points and 17 rebounds, and took charge throughout by hitting 12 of 18 shots from the floor.
Lumen Christi freshman Brenden Gregory, however, had a bigger game with 34 points on six 3-pointers, with five of those coming in the second half. Gregory gave the Archangels their first lead of the game with 1:44 left in regulation with consecutive treys for a 53-52 edge.
Kalugin and Trail put the Warriors back in front 56-53 with three trips to the foul line, but Gregory had one more bullet in his arsena. Gregory pulled up from behind a wall of Nikolaevsk defenders and buried the game-tying shot with 2.1 seconds left.
Lumen took a 61-58 lead in overtime, thanks to a triple from Shon Nagel, but the Archangels found themselves in trouble when both starting players Daniel Bennett and Andrew Howard fouled out.
“At first I was kind of nervous,” Trail said about the overtime situation. “But then I saw we had four minutes (in overtime) on the clock, and that’s a lot of time. Lot of points can be scored.”
The late OT drama started when J.D. Mumey put a crucial block on Lumen’s Noah Cruz with just over a minute left, and Trail eventually made the payoff with a layup with 35 seconds left to close the gap to 61-60.
Nikolaevsk then found itself with the golden opportunity under its own basket.
“I knew we had stronger inside presence,” said head coach Steve Klaich. “Even when we were down three, I kept telling them we just need a basket, we need to get inside and score, it doesn’t have to be a three.”
Klaich said the winning play offered several different options out of the inbounds play, but the first was the one to work — a simple pass from Kalugin to Trail at the baseline and the layup by Trail, who was able to use the most of his size and experience to muscle his way to the rim.
Klaich said he thought about calling a timeout but did not want the Lumen defense to set itself. The decision to stay with the play paid off.
“I gambled and my boys knew what I was thinking when I called it,” Klaich said. “Not having their big guy outside helped us.”
Tri-Valley 47, Nikolaevsk 31
Tri-Valley 19 7 11 10 —47
Nikolaevsk 9 9 3 10 —31
TRI-VALLEY (47) — Titus 0, Suko 0, Mayo 7, Pryzbylski 2, Byfuglien 7, Usibelli 3, Pennington 4, Valdivieso 0, Tomeo 0, Cockman 24.
NIKOLAEVSK (31) — Klaich 0, Z. Fefelov 0, Lasiter 0, Yakunin 2, Kalugin 0, J. Fefelov 10, E. Fefelov 19.
3-point FG — Tri-Valley 1 (Usibelli); Nikolaevsk 2 (J. Fefelov 1, E. Fefelov 1).
Team fouls — Tri-Valley 11; Nikolaevsk 14. Fouled out — Byfuglien.
Warriors 62, Archangels 61, OT
Lumen Christi 6 12 17 21 5 —61
Nikolaevsk 12 15 14 15 6 —62
LUMEN CHRISTI (61) — Gregory 34, Cruz 0, D. Bennett 10, Lych 9, Nagel 8, Bernert 0, T. Bennett 7, Howard 2.
NIKOLAEVSK (58) — Fefelov 14, Nikitenko 6, J. Trail 6, Kalugin 5, D. Nikitenko 0, Mumey 2, M. Trail 29.
3-point FG — Lumen Christi 9 (Gregory 6, Nagel 2, T. Bennett 1); Nikolaevsk 6 (Fefelov 3, J. Trail 2, Kalugin 1).
Team fouls — Lumen Christi 16; Nikolaevsk 9. Fouled out — D. Bennett, Howard.