When Nikolaevsk girls coach Bea Klaich needed a second-half spark with her Warriors squad down three points, she turned to experience to guide the team.
The Warriors players that have been on the big stage of the Class 1A state basketball tournament and the intimidating Alaska Airlines Center before helped provide a strong finishing kick, and Nikolaevsk secured a 43-31 first-round victory Wednesday afternoon over the Newhalen Malamutes.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game,” Klaich said. “But we got the job done.”
The win advances Nikolaevsk into the championship bracket, where the Warriors will play an 8 a.m. quarterfinal today against third-seeded Tri-Valley.
It was the only victory of the day for peninsula schools at state. Earlier on Wednesday, the Nikolaevsk boys and the Cook Inlet Academy girls lost play-in games that relegated each team to the Class 1A consolation bracket.
The Nikolaevsk girls were in danger of giving the peninsula a winless opening day after Newhalen broke out to a slim halftime lead of 20-17, but the second half proved to be Nikolaevsk’s playground.
“We’ve had problems with the third quarter in the past,” Klaich said. “I told the girls they need to come out with intensity and fight really hard, box out and grab those rebounds.”
Klaich credited the scrappy play of sophomore Kerianna Lasiter. Klaich said Lasiter’s previous state experience gave her an edge that the team needed when things looked bleak.
“She gave us a spark we needed,” Klaich said after Lasiter snagged four rebounds in just 11 minutes of on-court time. “Sometimes someone that can get out there and hustle can really turn the team around.”
Nikolaevsk junior Elizabeth Fefelov led the charge with 17 points and 17 rebounds, while Markiana Yakunin notched 10 points. Standing at 5-foot-10 and the tallest player on the court, Fefelov was able to grab 11 boards on the offensive glass, and said once the Warriors began taking over the rebound battle, her teammates were there to get her the ball.
“We just started feeling each other,” Fefelov said. “We were making better passes in transition and going with the flow.”
Newhalen found its groove early by ripping off a 5-0 run to take 13-8 lead, a run that was capped by a 3-pointer from Aileen Leste in the first minutes of the second quarter.
Both Fefelov and Yakunin kept the Warriors within striking distance by smartly drawing fouls, and by the halftime break, Nikolaevsk trailed 20-17.
A triple by Kristina Askoak with 5:08 left in the third quarter left the Malamutes with a 23-20 edge, but with the flip of the switch, Nikolaevsk turned up the intensity with 12 unanswered points, with 10 of that being scored by Fefelov and Yakunin. Fefelov said taking the lead helped settle her teammates down and play the team game.
“That was our main goal, to take each game as it goes,” Fefelov said. “Just go from there.”
Sophia Klaich added to the mix with a baseline jumpshot and a 3-pointer to push the Warriors lead to 38-25 with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter. Overall, Nikolaevsk was able to outscore Newhalen 22-4 in less than eight minutes of game time.
Sand Point boys 63, Nikolaevsk 49
Twelve days after winning the first boys conference title in school history, the Nikolaevsk boys lost a first-round state matchup to Sand Point.
The loss drops the Warriors into the consolation bracket with an 11 a.m. Thursday meeting with familiar Peninsula Conference rival Lumen Christi. Nikolaevsk split two games with Lumen Christi this season.
Karl Smith scored a game-high 22 points for Sand Point, which also got 19 points and 10 boards from Steven Galovin and 13 and 10 from Anthony Webster as the trio tortured the Warriors.
Nikolaevsk was led by the 13 points and 13 rebounds from Michael Trail and 14 points by Kosta Nikitenko, but as hard as he tried, head coach Steve Klaich could not explain the off day by his crew as a whole.
“(Sand Point) had more want-to than we did,” Klaich said. “They wanted to get the job done, and we didn’t play with the same energy and passion as we have all season long.”
The Warriors also got 13 points and seven boards from J.D. Mumey.
Klaich said one of the biggest culprits was ineffectiveness in containing Sand Points’ weak-side rebounding, which provided the Eagles plenty of second opportunities. After the two teams shot fairly evenly in the first half, Sand Point took over by shooting 44 percent from the floor while Nikolaevsk struggled with 24 percent efficiency, hitting 10 of 41 shots.
Coming off the Peninsula Conference championship, Klaich said the Warriors mysteriously did not have the same intensity the week before in practice.
“I think we played like we practiced last week,” he said. “The intensity wasn’t there. It left a lot to be desired.”
Nikitenko delivered a trey and a jumper midway through the second quarter that left Nikolaevsk trailing 20-17, but Sand Point finally was able to distance itself with seven unanswered points on two layups from Galovin and a 3-point blast from Smith with 2:09 left in the half. Sand Point led 29-22 at halftime.
Another 7-0 run by the Eagles pushed the lead to 36-22 early in the third quarter, but the Warriors ate it back up with a Mumey 3 and a steal and a layup from Lukah Kalugin.
That left the Sand Point lead at 38-29, and Smith responded by scoring six points in an 8-0 Eagles run to forge a 44-29 lead with 1:11 left in the third.
Nikitenko and Justin Trail kept Nikolaevsk in range with several 3-point buckets, but it was not enough to keep Smith and the Eagles at bay on the other end of the court. A triple by Webster with 3:04 left in the game essentially sealed the victory by giving the Eagles an 18-point gap.
Klaich said the team needs to return Thursday with a renewed effort against an old adversary in Lumen Christi.
“The quicker we can forget, learn from our mistakes and start refocusing, the better,” Klaich said.
Kake girls 33, CIA 28
A fourth-quarter comeback fell short for the Cook Inlet Academy girls Wednesday morning in a first-round play-in game.
The loss dropped the Eagles into the state consolation bracket. CIA begins Thursday with a 5 p.m. matchup with Newtok or top-seeded King Cove.
CIA, a program that hasn’t played a state game in five years, trailed 26-12 late in the third quarter but ripped off a 12-0 run to cut the gap to three points with 4:19 left in the fourth quarter.
However, the Thunderbirds abruptly ended the run with seven points in a 61-second span that put the Kake lead at 33-24 with 2:33 to go, a run that started with a 3-pointer by Willow Jackson.
CIA head coach Josh Hawley said going down 10-2 in the first quarter made for a struggle in getting back to the front, even as the Eagles began to flourish in the second half.
“From the very beginning, we just played flat-footed, we just didn’t have the intensity that we normally do,” Hawley said. “Maybe (it was) game-time jitters and we couldn’t find a way to settle ourselves to play the way we normally do.”
Senior Adara Warren posted 11 points and nine rebounds to lead the Eagles while teammate Adeline Nelson had eight points, six boards and five steals.
Kake got 12 points and 10 boards from Courtney James, who ended up shooting 6 for 10 inside the arc.
Early in the game, the Thunderbirds had the advantage on the glass, getting multiple offensive rebounds that resulted in second-chance points. In the first half, Kake was able to post 37 field goal attempts to 16 for CIA. The Thunderbirds finished the game with 60 field goal attempts to 38 by CIA.
The Eagles’ rebounding improved in the second half but their shooting dropped to 18 percent. Hawley said performing on the big state tournament stage may have led to nervous energy, but said that is a given for all teams.
“They talked to me about nerves, but every game at state definitely has nerves,” he said. “If anyone tells you they don’t have nerves, I would disagree with (them).
“They didn’t want to disappoint.”
Kake held CIA to only free throw points in the third quarter as the Thunderbirds built up a 26-12 lead following a coast-to-coast layup by Jackson with 1:52 left in the third quarter.
From there, the Eagles began to finally break out of their slump. Warren connected on a trey with 7:38 left in the fourth quarter, then was followed by a pair of driving buckets from Anna Cizek and Nelson that cut the gap to 26-24 with 4:19 to play.
“In the second half, the girls started relaxing more and things started turning our way,” Hawley explained. “If we had that same intensity in the first half that we had in the second half … we would be talking about something different.”
The rally ended with a thud when Jackson buried a 3-pointer with 3:34 to go. Jackson’s trey was followed by a crucial CIA turnover that turned into a layup by Jackson. Felicia Ross-Shaquanie put in a basket with 2:33 left for a 33-24 Kake lead, which essentially spelled the end for the Eagles.
“If we would’ve had another quarter, we definitely would’ve put it on them and made that comeback,” Hawley said.
Thunderbirds 33, Eagles 28
CIA 2 8 4 14 —28
Kake 10 10 6 7 —33
CIA (28) — G. Nelson 0, Hyatt 0, S. Nelson 2, Dohse 2, A. Nelson 8, Castenholz 0, Cizek 5, Warren 11.
KAKE (33) — Crookes 0, James 12, Jackson 9, D. Jackson 4, Copsey 4, Rose-Wooton 2, Ross-Shaquanie 2, Beer 0.
3-point FG — CIA 1 (Warren); Kake 1 (Jackson).
Team fouls — CIA 9; Kake 14. Fouled out — Castenholz.
Warriors 43, Malamutes 31
Newhalen 10 10 3 8 —31
Nikolaevsk 8 9 13 13 —43
NEWHALEN (31) — Askoak 3, Nanalook 12, Hobson 2, Anelon 6, Leste 4, Clark 4.
NIKOLAEVSK (43) — Klaich 9, Z. Fefelov 0, Lasiter 0, Yakunin 10, Kalugin 0, J. Fefelov 7, E. Fefelov 17.
3-point FG — Newhalen 2 (Askoak 1, Leste 1); Nikolaevsk 3 (Klaich 1, Yakunin 1, J. Fefelov 1).
Team fouls — Newhalen 19; Nikolaevsk 10. Fouled out — Nanalook, Anelon.
Eagles 63, Warriors 49
Nikolaevsk 10 12 12 15 —49
Sand Point 12 17 15 19 —63
NIKOLAEVSK (49) — Fefelov 2, K. Nikitenko 14, J. Trail 5, Kalugin 2, D. Nikitenko 0, Mumey 13, M. Trail 13.
SAND POINT (63) — Webster 13, Larsen 7, Galovin 19, Smith 22, Cumberlidge 2.
3-point FG — Nikolaevsk 7 (Mumey 3, K. Nikitenko 3, J. Trail 1); Sand Point 5 (Smith 2, Galovin 1, Larsen 1, Webster 1).