Playing on the biggest stage thus far in their high school basketball careers, the Ninilchik boys should have been a nervous group Thursday morning.
Instead, the Wolverines are playing with the moxie of hardened veterans.
Ninilchik dominated the glass for a second consecutive day to claim a 64-39 win over King Cove and clinch a spot in the Class 1A March Madness state tournament semifinals. The Wolverines will face Anaktuvuk Pass, 49-48 winners over Minto, today at 3:30 p.m., with the winner going on to Saturday’s 1A title game.
Ninilchik had four players in double figures, led by Tyler Presley’s game-high 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
“This is awesome, it’s just so much fun,” Presley said excitedly after the game.
Presley opened his tournament Wednesday with 11 points against St. Mary’s, a typically low total for the junior guard, but he said he got the state jitters out before Thursday’s matchup.
“Yesterday was my warmup game,” Presley quipped.
Joining Presley was senior teammate Pat Brandt, who scored 10 and grabbed 10 rebounds, and 6-foot-8 big man Austin White, who controlled the glass with 22 boards and chipped in 15 points. Dalton Geppert added 16 points as well.
Ian Samuelson led King Cove with 15 points on a cold 6-for-24 shooting.
Overall, Ninilchik out-rebounded King Cove 56-38.
“This is when we play our best, when we’re getting rebounds,” said Ninilchik head coach Nick Finley. “Our season average is 45 per game, and I told the guys going into the season that this is what we do.”
All season long, Finley has held 6:30 a.m. practices at Ninilchik High, which made Thursday’s 8 a.m. start time feel normal for the Wolverines.
“I actually came into this game excited for 8,” Presley said. “We came in feeling awake, and I think (King Cove was) still sleeping.”
The Wolverines are also fighting off a lingering cough that has taken hold of several players, including White, who could be heard hacking away during stoppages of play.
Presley said he caught a bit of the bug as well, but he has since gotten close to full health.
But what had Presley most excited after the game was the level of play by his teammates. Both Presley and coach Finley praised the teamwork of the group, and heaped glory on the bench players. Presley finished with a game-high six assists, several to Ninilchik’s role players.
“It’s fun when we play like a team, when the freshman are scoring and playing,” Presley said.
After an 11-6 start to the game, Ninilchik began to separate itself in the second quarter. Following a 3-pointer by King Cove’s Connor Samuelson early in the quarter cut the T-Jack’s deficit to 16-12, Ninilchik scored on three straight possessions, starting with a slick spin move by White, continuing with a steal and a layup by Presley and ending with a layup by White on a nice dish by Presley. The sequence left the Wolverines leading 22-12.
A pair of corner 3s by Geppert pushed Ninilchik’s lead to 28-16, and the Wolverines held the halftime advantage 31-18.
A putback layup by White and a triple by Presley in the first minute of the third quarter put the lead at 36-18, and a 7-0 run midway through the period furthered the gap to 25 points. At the end of three quarters, Ninilchik led 52-26.
“They don’t ask, ‘Coach how many points did I have?,’” Finley said. “They ask how many rebounds they got.”
That mentality has left the Wolverines with a shot at the 1A state final, but a hungry Anaktuvuk Pass squad awaits in the semis.
“We’ll be ready,” Finley said.
Nikolaevsk boys 54, Scammon Bay 41
The Nikolaevsk boys are headed to the semifinals at the Class 1A state tournament, and by the looks of things, it could be headed to an all-Peninsula Conference final Saturday.
But, of course, the Warriors are not even pretending to think about that. Right now, they are enjoying the spoils of earning a spot in the state semis.
“So far so good,” said a relieved Nikolaevsk head coach Steve Klaich. “We just played the state runner-up from last year, so I’m thrilled to be here.”
With the win, Nikolaevsk advanced to a semifinal matchup against Noatak, 53-33 winners over Sand Point, today at 5:15 p.m.
The Warriors turned around a third-quarter letdown by playing disciplined, controlled basketball in the final minutes to pick up a quarterfinal win Thursday over the Eagles, a team just one year removed from playing the 1A boys championship.
Felemon Molodih led Nikolaevsk with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor. Fellow senior Neil Gordeev notched a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards.
“I’d like to forget the third quarter,” Molodih said. “The intensity was lacking a bit, but we took it one play at a time.”
A day after an impressive defensive effort on Akiachak’s star player, Molodih was assigned to one of Scammon Bay’s top threats, Theodore Sundown. Molodih held Sundown scoreless in the first half, and the Eagles guard ended up with 13 points and four turnovers. Molodih had five steals in the game.
“Felemon was even better today,” Klaich said . “I’m thrilled with how he rises to every challenge.”
Molodih said the effort against the quick and agile Sundown was the result of many practices and behind-the-scenes work.
“It takes a lot of dedication to be here, and sometimes it comes down to the little plays,” Molodih said.
After taking a 19-15 lead at the end of the first quarter, Nikolaevsk began breaking Scammon Bay’s zone defense and worked into a groove. A floating layup by Molodih pushed the lead to 23-15 and an arcing 3-pointer by Jonah Fefelov with 1:46 to go in the half put the Warriors up 28-17. At halftime, the lead was 31-17, thanks to a triple by Nikit Fefelov from several feet beyond the arc at the buzzer that saw Fefelov immediately walk to the locker room in a perfect drop-the-mic moment.
However, the third quarter proved to be a different animal. The Warriors hit two quick buckets to extend their advantage to 36-17, but the momentum quickly shifted.
A transition layup by Sundown sparked a 17-0 run that was capped by a triple from the top of the arc with 2:36 to play in the third quarter. Sundown chipped in nine points in the run, which left Nikolaevsk hanging on to a 36-34 lead.
“I think we got a little tentative, and that allowed (Scammon Bay) to come back,” Klaich said. “Once they shifted back to a zone (defense), we were able to stop it.”
Molodih was the one to stop the momentum, as he laid in a floater with 1:39 to go in the period. At the end of three quarters, Nikolaevsk held a 40-37 lead.
Seven unanswered points by Nikolaevsk helped the Warriors push the margin to 10 points with 1:44 to play in the game, and Nikit and Jonah Fefelov combined to go 5 for 6 from the foul line in the final 1:24 to ice the victory.
“We have so many shooters, we usually tear apart a zone defense,” Klaich said. “That and four out of five starters are juniors and seniors, so the experience helped us.”
Wolverines 64, T-Jacks 39
King Cove 6 12 8 13 —39
Ninilchik 11 20 21 12 —64
KING COVE (39) — Larsen 1 0-2 2, Severian 0 0-0 0, Duerte 3 0-0 6, Samuelson 6 2-4 15, Babcock 0 0-0 0, Christiansen 4 0-0 9, Samuelson 2 0-0 5, Gould 1 0-0 2, Reeve 0 0-0 0, Larsen 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 2-6 39.
NINILCHIK (64) — A. Koch 0 0-0 0, Appelhanz 0 0-0 0, Presley 8 1-2 19, G. Koch 1 0-0 2, Geppert 7 0-0 16, Brandt 3 4-10 10, Bartolowits 0 0-0 0, Mumey 0 2-2 2, White 7 1-2 15. Totals 26 8-16 64.
3-point goals — Ninilchik 4 (Presley 2, Geppert 2); King Cove 3 (Samuelson, Christiansen, Samuelson). Team fouls — Ninilchik 8; King Cove 13. Fouled out — Gould.
Warriors 54, Eagles 41
Nikolaevsk 19 12 9 14 —54
Scammon Bay 15 2 20 4 —41
NIKOLAEVSK (54) — K. Molodih 3 0-0 6, N. Fefelov 2 3-4 9, Gordeev 5 0-0 10, F. Molodih 6 3-6 16, J. Fefelov 2 4-4 9, Kalugin 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 10-14 54.
SCAMMON BAY (41) — Charlie 0 0-0 0, T. Sundown 6 0-0 13, Hunter 0 0-0 0, O. Rivers 0 0-0 0, T. Rivers, 2 0-0 5, J. Charlie 0 0-0 0, S. Rivers 5 3-4 15, J. Sundown 3 0-0 8, Kaganak 0 0-0 0, Flynn 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 3-4 41.
3-point goals — Nikolaevsk 4 (N. Fefelov 2, F. Molodih 1, J. Fefelov 1); Scammon Bay 6 (S. Rivers 2, J. Sundown 2, T. Sundown 1, T. Rivers 1). Team fouls — Nikolaevsk 8; Scammon Bay 16. Fouled out — T. Sundown, J. Sundown.