The Kenai Central and Palmer girls hoops teams clashed for the first time this year in Northern Lights Conference play Saturday night at the Palmer High School gym, but it wasn’t the first time they met this season.
Eight days earlier, at the Lady Lynx Prep Shootout at Dimond High, the Kards had narrowly defeated the Moose 44-42, so retribution was surely on the minds of Palmer players Saturday. Host Palmer made good by defeating Kenai on Saturday with a 40-33 win.
“We had the chance to play (Kenai) at the Dimond tournament, and we weren’t making shots that night,” said Palmer coach Elgin Hollins. “Playing on our home court is big, so we worked a lot better tonight on boxing out and rebounding, and that led to second-chance points and making more of those shots.”
The win lifted Palmer to 2-2 in the conference and 8-9 overall, while Kenai dropped to 3-3 in the conference, 5-12 overall.
Kenai coach Cary Calvert said several things were different from the game against Palmer earlier in the year.
“We let (Abrianna) Busby get open in the corner, and we were hurt in penetration.” Calvert said. “It was a game that was there for us.”
Palmer got scoring out of eight players, led by Busby, Kali Bull and Kiana Till, each of whom notched eight points. Busby proved to be dangerous in transition 3s, getting open several times in the corners and launching triples, although she only hit one.
Alexis Baker led Kenai with seven points, and Lara Creighton added six. Hannah Drury and Kelsey Booth chipped in five apiece.
Saturday’s contest began sharp for the Kards, who held on to lead for much of the first half with solid rebounding and a patient offense that gave them good shots. Kenai stretched its lead to as much as 18-11 midway through the second quarter, but as Palmer turned up the intensity on its defensive press, the lead began to come down.
Bull buried a 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the first half to close the deficit to 18-14, then Till hit a jumper with a minute left to bring the game to one possession. On the ensuing inbounds pass by Kenai, Till stole the ball and laid it in for a 20-19 game, Kenai leading. The Kards held that one-point advantage heading into the break.
“We knew coming out of halftime that if we take away the second-chance points, we’d be in good shape,” Hollins said.
The Moose took the lead for the first time early in the third quarter on a pair of made free-throw shots by Busby, which gave Palmer a 21-20 lead. Busby nailed a triple in transition midway throughout the frame to extend the lead, and Savannah Divon’s jumper with 2:08 left pushed the Palmer lead to 28-20.
Meanwhile, Palmer increased its defensive press to stifle Kenai’s possessions.
With coach Hollins yelling encouragement from the sidelines, it was not difficult for the home team to maintain the lead.
“We have a solid group of girls that share that enthusiasm and passion,” Hollins said. “I’m a little more animated than most coaches, and that’s good because we need that extra boost sometimes.”
The closest Kenai got to the lead after losing it was with nine seconds left in the third quarter, when a fantastic offensive rebounding effort by Alli Steinbeck paid off when teammate Kelsey Booth got the next shot up and was fouled. Booth sank both freebies to close the gap to 29-27, which was the lead Palmer took into the fourth quarter.
From there, Busby built the lead up again with a long-range jumper early in the fourth quarter, and Till continued the scoring with a driving layup with 5:21 remaining that put the lead at 33-27.
Baker laid in a bucket and was given the foul shot with 1:56 to go, forcing another one-possession game at 36-33, but Palmer’s Kaylee King iced the game with 53 ticks left with a foul shot of her own.
Palmer boys 46, Kenai 33
The Palmer boys attacked from all sides in a conference victory Saturday night over Kenai Central.
Palmer senior Michael Kluting and sophomore Clayton Southwick combined for 39 points for the Moose — Kluting led with 23 and Southwick had 16 — and dominated the paint as well as the arc. Standing at 6-foot-6, Kluting used his size to get inside for post shots, but also added a trio of 3s, while the 6-foot-7 Southwick hit a pair of 3s in a dominant stretch of scoring in the second quarter.
Kenai coach Ken Felchle said Palmer’s size made life difficult for the Kardinals, and added that Kluting in particular was a tough matchup.
“(Kluting) is a beast,” Felchle said. “He’s able to post up and transition and get 3-pointers. He’s a nightmare matchup.”
With his long burgundy locks flowing from beneath a headband, Kluting echoed the prowess of a Greek god, getting numerous looks at the rim to score 10 of Palmer’s 12 third-quarter points.
In the second quarter, Southwick got on a roll and scored all 11 points for the Moose in a stretch of 5:40. Southwick ultimately tallied 14 of his 16 points in the frame.
“They’re going to dictate game play with their size, they play back line defense, are very well coached, and are a disciplined team,” Felchle said. “When you combine all those things, it is very difficult to generate offense against them.”
Marshall Vest led Kenai with 10 points, while Keith Ivy added eight.
The loss dropped Kenai to 2-4 in NLC play and 9-9 overall.
Felchle said Palmer is one of the tallest teams in the state that Kenai has seen, and listed Ketchikan as one of the others. After a defensive first quarter that saw the Moose lead 6-3, both teams began picking up the scoring pace, as Southwick reeled off layups and long range missiles, while Vest tried to keep up with a pair of treys of his own. Vest nailed his second 3-pointer of the quarter with 3:06 to play to close Kenai’s deficit to 16-14.
However, Southwick and company closed with six fast points on post shots to lead 22-14 at the break.
The Moose built the lead up to 28-14, then continued the rush with consecutive triples by Kluting late in the third quarter to take a 34-17 lead over Kenai.
Moose 40, Kardinals 33
Kenai 8 12 7 6 —33
Palmer 7 12 10 11 —40
KENAI (33) — Holmes 1 0-0 2, Drury 1 3-6 5, Steinbeck 2 0-0 4, Creighton 3 0-3 6, Baker 3 1-3 7, Booth 1 3-4 5, Morse 0 0-0 0, Ross 0 0-0 0, Beck 1 2-2 4. Totals 12 9-18 33.
PALMER (40) — Busby 2 3-7 8, Goers 0 0-0 0, Benshettler 1 1-2 3, Bull 3 1-2 8, Venske 0 1-2 1, King 0 3-4 3, Uschmann 1 3-4 5, Till 4 0-2 8, Bowman 0 0-0 0, Divon 2 0-0 4. Totals 13 12-23 40.
3-point goals — Kenai 0; Palmer 2 (Busby 1, Bull 1).
Team fouls — Kenai 16; Palmer 18. Fouled out — Till.
Moose 46, Kardinals 33
Kenai 3 11 5 14 —33
Palmer 6 16 12 12 —46
KENAI (33) — Ta. Landry 0 1-2 1, Ivy 2 2-2 8, Vest 3 2-2 10, Tr. Landry 1 2-2 5, Brazell 1 1-2 3, Jackman 0 2-2 2, Beiser 0 0-0 0, Fitt 2 0-2 4. Totals 9 10-14 33.
PALMER (46) — Duffy 0 0-0 0, Martin 1 0-0 2, Ferris 0 1-2 1, B. Southwick 1 0-0 2, Witz 1 0-0 2, C. Southwick 7 0-0 16, Kluting 9 2-2 23. Totals 19 3-4 46.
3-point goals — Kenai 5 (Ivy 2, Vest 2, Tr. Landry 1); Palmer 5 (Kluting 3, C. Southwick 2).
Team fouls — Kenai 13; Palmer 15. Fouled out — Ferris.