Ninilchik’s Austin White puts down a two-handed dunk against the Aniak Halfbreeds Wednesday at the Class 1A state basketball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Ninilchik’s Austin White puts down a two-handed dunk against the Aniak Halfbreeds Wednesday at the Class 1A state basketball tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Ninilchik boys win 1st day at state hoops

In Villanova-esque style, senior Nikit Fefelov drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send the Nikolaevsk boys off to the Class 1A state championship bracket Wednesday night at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

Fefelov, however, wasn’t thinking ‘Nova.

“I was thinking Kobe,” Fefelov said. “I shot it sideways and I thought (of going to) overtime, but it went in.”

Fefelov finished with a game-high 19 points to lead the Warriors to a thrilling 47-44 upset over third-seeded Noatak. NIkolaevsk will continue its run at the tournament today with an 8 p.m. quarterfinal matchup with Newhalen.

Kalenik Molodih racked up 10 points and nine rebounds for Nikolaevsk, and Anfim Kalugin brought down 11 boards.

As an unseeded squad, Nikolaevsk head coach Steve Klaich said he hopes his team can ride the underdog role to a second straight title game appearance.

“I’ve told the kids, we didn’t come to Anchorage to get our nails done or hang out at the mall,” he said. “We came to play basketball.”

Klaich said he was comfortable with Fefelov taking the last shot because the senior guard has done it before. In last year’s state championship finale against Ninilchik, Fefelov tied the game with a jump shot in the dying minutes to force overtime, where Nikolaevsk ultimately lost.

Wednesday’s final play started with 5.1 seconds left on the clock, following a game-tying layup by Noatak’s Kenneth Walton. Fefelov took the inbounds pass from the opposite baseline, raced up the court to the top of the arc, where he found himself one-on-one with a defender, and released the game-winning shot.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Fefelov said. “I didn’t know to scream, to run … it was just crazy.”

The climactic ending capped a close game that saw Nikolaevsk hold a lead throughout much of the contest. The Warriors jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first quarter and led 28-25 at halftime, which was also capped with a buzzer-beating shot by Fefelov.

Noatak raced out of the gates in the third quarter on an 8-0 run, but Fefelov sparked the Warriors with a triple midway through the frame.

A fadeaway jumper by Noatak’s Robert Sheldon put the Lynx up 40-38 with 3:04 left in the fourth quarter, and a tipback on an offensive rebound by Walton with 2:27 left put them up 42-40.

Fefelov tied the game with a layup and Anfim Kalugin pushed Nikolaevsk into the lead with 1:05 left on a rebounded shot.

Ninilchik boys 51, Aniak 41

A superlative run through the regular season set up the Ninilchik boys with the No. 1 seed at the Class 1A state tournament, but at the big dance, every team will make the Wolverines sweat a little harder.

Ninilchik survived the first day with a Wednesday afternoon victory over Aniak to advance to the championship bracket quarterfinals at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. The Wolverines will face Shaktoolik today at 11 a.m.

Considered by many to be the state title favorites, the defending state champions were never more than 11 points ahead throughout the contest, their closest win over a 1A opponent this season.

“I guess you could call them first-game jitters,” said Ninilchik head coach Nick Finley.

2017 Class 1A Boys Player of the Year Austin White led Ninilchik with 20 points and 17 rebounds on 50 percent shooting, while teammate Dalton Geppert notched 14 points and 12 boards. Geppert drained two late shots that helped the Wolverines distance themselves in the win.

“It’s just another win,” Geppert said. “We know other teams put a target on us and (Aniak) came out and gave us a game.”

Senior point guard Tyler Presley’s absence made things a little more difficult for the Wolverines in the second half. Presley was hit with his fourth foul and was forced to the bench for much of the third and fourth quarters. Presley finished with nine points.

With Ninilchik’s key ballhandler out, the Halfbreeds were able to take better stabs at the Wolverines defense, something that Finley feared most.

“It’s huge,” Finley said about Presley’s absence. “A lot of games he doesn’t score all that much, but he runs the show and sets up our plays. Having him on the bench, especially at the state tournament, it’s kind of a nightmare.”

Earlier in the day, the Ninilchik girls faced a similar challenge when sophomore guard DeeAnn White had to sit with four fouls early on, and Finley tasked his boys team with avoiding the same fate.

“When you get yourself in foul trouble, you have to adjust,” Finley said. “He never adjusted.”

Finley said Aniak’s Justin Ward gave Ninilchik the most trouble in the second half. Ward ended with 15 points and four steals to lead the Halfbreeds.

The Wolverines worked hard in the first half to get White the ball under the rim, but Aniak anticipated the plan with fierce guarding on the 6-foot-8 White, who still managed to get in a two-handed dunk in the second quarter.

A 27-19 halftime lead was whittled to 30-26 late in the third quarter with an array of shots from Ward and Braden Dallman.

A steal and a fast-break layup from Ray Turner with 5:55 left in the fourth quarter cut Ninilchik’s lead to 37-32, but a floater and a tipback on a rebound by White helped build the gap again, and a turnaround jump shot by Geppert with 1:57 left pushed the lead to 45-34.

Finley said getting White the ball in the paint was key to finishing the game strong.

“It was a little frustrating today, he didn’t realize how open he was at time,” Finley said. “After a couple timeouts, I pretty much gave him the rule that if you get the ball outside, pass it to either side, go straight to the block and pound the inside.”

After an Aniak basket by Matthew Morgan, Geppert connected on another shot with 1:13 remaining to help ice the win.

“It’s kind of hard to shoot in here,” Geppert said, pointing out the bigger atmosphere. “But coach said if they get lazy on defense, just go for it.”

Ninilchik’s next opponent, Shaktoolik, escaped the opening day with a 66-59 overtime win over Tanana. Finley said after watching the early game, he expects another tough test in a sharpshooting team like Shaktoolik.

“The guys know what to do,” Finley said about his squad. “I’ve just been telling them to handle the moment.”

Wednesday boys

Wolverines 51, Halfbreeds 41

Ninilchik 9 18 7 17 — 51

Aniak 5 14 7 15 — 41

NINILCHIK (51) — Presley 3 2-2 9, Koch 0 2-4 2, Geppert 6 0-2 14, Clark 0 0-0 0, Bartolowits 0 0-0 0, Mumey 2 0-0 6, White 8 3-6 20. Totals 19 7-14 51.

ANIAK (41) — Dallmann 4 0-0 8, Ward 5 4-6 15, Morgan 4 0-0 9, Pete 0 0-0 0, Dooley 0 0-0 0, Turner 3 0-2 6, Morgan 1 0-0 3, Hoeldt 0 0-0 0, Kelila 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 4-8 41.

3-point goals — Ninilchik 6 (Geppert 2, Mumey 2, Presley 1, White 1); Aniak 3 (Ward 1, Morgan 1, Morgan 1).

Team fouls — Ninilchik 10; Aniak 14. Fouled out — Presley.

Warriors 47, Lynx 44

Noatak 6 19 9 10 — 44

Nikolaevsk 13 15 7 12 — 47

NOATAK (44) — Booth 0 0-0 0, Sheldon 6 0-0 12, Mills 2 0-0 4, Onalik 0 0-0 0, Norton 1 0-0 2, Sage 0 0-0 0, Van Amburg 0 0-0 0, Walton 5 1-2 11, Sherman 4 2-2 11, Stalker-Norton 2 0-0 4, Walton 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 3-4 44.

NIKOLAEVSK (47) — Molodih 4 2-5 10, Jones 0 0-0 0, Yakunin 0 0-0 0, Fefelov 7 2-5 19, Nikitenko 0 0-0 0, Z. Trail 1 1-2 3, M. Trail 3 0-0 7, Kalugin 3 2-5 8. Totals 18 7-17 47.

3-point goals — Noatak 1 (Sherman); Nikolaevsk 4 (Fefelov 3, M. Trail 1).

Team fouls — Noatak 15; Nikolaevsk 6. Fouled out — none.

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