The Kenai Central basketball program capped an emotional senior night with a high-energy 52-47 boys victory over Soldotna on Kenai Central’s Cliff Massie court.
With a packed crowd filling out the bleachers and signs and ceremonious balloons celebrating the senior class of 2017, the Kardinals held on to win after giving up a double-digit halftime lead.
The occasion was marked by the pregame announcement that longtime coaching presence Craig Jung will be hanging it up for good after the season.
Kenai boys head coach Ken Felchle made his thoughts known prior to the boys contest by giving a heartfelt address to both Jung and longtime Kenai football and basketball coach Jim Beeson, who moved to Washington state three years ago.
“There’s a lot of history in these guys, and I owe those two men so much in my life,” Felchle said. “I’m fortunate to coach under them and with them.”
Jung has coached for 40 years at Kenai Central, 24 of them as head coach of the girls team. Jung got his start in 1975 in the tiny community of Tyonek, which lies just north of Kenai and across Cook Inlet. In 2012, Jung was inducted into the Alaska School Activities Association Hall of Fame.
Although he still plans to stick around the halls of Kenai Central, Jung explained that the accumulated miles of travel took its toll on him after years of dedication to the team.
As the senior boys class of Kalvin Daniels, Nick Beeson, Avery Hieber, Tristan Landry and Josh Jackman and the senior girls class of Rebecca Miller, Bethany Coghill, Attison Machen-Gray, Julieanne Wilson and Lara Creighton were celebrated between games, Felchle gave one last nod to Jung and Beeson, who made an appearance with his son Nick.
Felchle, a 21-year Kenai Central caoch himself, said he was happy to see the swollen crowd give Jung, Beeson and the senior class a proper sendoff for the current hoops season.
“It’s so much more about relationships, and I’m so happy that both our teams played in front of this crowd,” Felchle said. “They deserved it.”
The weekend also wrapped up the regular season and set the matchups for next weekend’s Northern Lights Conference tournament in Kodiak.
The win helped Kenai (2-8 in conference) avoid the sixth and final seed, which went to Soldotna (1-9). The Wasilla boys (9-1) took the top seed, even while being stunned Saturday night with a loss to Colony (7-3), and both schools will receive first-round byes at the tournament. Kodiak (6-4) took the third spot and Palmer (5-5) took fourth.
As the fifth seed, the Kardinals will face Palmer in the first round. Palmer swept Kenai this season with scores of 50-38 and 58-45, and also beat them a third time at the Dimond Prep Tournament 59-37.
As the sixth seed, the Stars will play Kodiak, a team they lost twice to with scores of 49-42 and 48-41.
In Saturday’s regular-season finale, senior Josh Jackman propelled the Kards with 19 points, including two free-throw situations in the dying minutes. Jackman calmly sunk both foul shots with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter that pushed the lead from one to three points, then repeated the feat with 19.4 seconds left to ice the game.
“This is a huge win, it really means a lot,” Jackman said. “No one on our team lacks confidence.”
Kenai led 31-19 at halftime after a number of big shots fell, including a two-handed slam by junior Luke Beiser and four aggressive drives to the rim by Jackman.
SoHi fought back in the third quarter by outside shooting, getting 3-pointers from Eli Sheridan and Sam McElroy. The Stars tied the game at 38 apiece with a trey by Kyle Marcuson at the end of the third quarter.
Marcuson gave SoHi the lead at 43-40 with another triple in the fourth quarter, but Kalvin Daniels answered for Kenai with a corner 3 that included a foul. Daniels sunk the extra point to put Kenai back into the lead.
A baseline layup by Wendell Tuisaula with 61 seconds left put SoHi within one point of the lead, but Beiser found space and hit a jumper with 46 ticks left to give the Kards some breathing room.
Soldotna girls 37, Kenai 18
The Soldotna girls put the memories of a buzzer-beater loss to Kenai earlier this year to rest with a dominant victory Saturday at Kenai Central.
With the win, SoHi (5-5) secured the third seed of the NLC tournament next week in Kodiak, and will be paired with sixth-seeded Kodiak (1-9) on the first day of the tournament. SoHi beat Kodiak twice this year with scores of 26-22 and 39-25.
“That’s huge,” said SoHi coach Kyle McFall. “That was our goal from the beginning of the season.”
Meanwhile, Kenai (3-7) clinched the fourth seed and will begin its tournament against fifth-seeded Palmer (3-7) next weekend. Kenai and Palmer split with year, with Palmer winning the first meeting 45-37 and Kenai the second at 49-47.
Wasilla (10-0) took the top spot of the NLC, while Colony (8-2) took second.
Saturday, SoHi sophomore Aliann Schmidt scored a game-high 11 points for SoHi, even while dealing with physical play on both ends. On more than one occasion, Schmidt was knocked to the ground amid the physical play, but came up each time to keep fighting.
“First of all, I’m proud of my team,” Schmidt said. “We got beat two years in a row by a buzzer-beater, so we just wanted to come out and conquer our rivals.”
An 8-0 run in the first quarter helped SoHi distance itself. The Stars led 23-11 at the half and used a 14-1 run in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Lara Creighton and Jaycie Calvert each scored five points to lead Kenai.
Kardinals 52, Stars 47
Soldotna 12 7 19 9 — 47
Kenai 12 19 7 14 — 52
SOLDOTNA (47) — Truesdell 0 0-0 0, Trammell 0 0-0 0, Spence 5 1-3 12, Sheridan 4 0-2 11, Crowder 2 0-0 5, Tuisaula 2 0-0 4, McElroy 3 0-0 7, Michael 1 0-0 2, Marcuson 2 0-0 6. Totals 19 1-5 47.
KENAI (52) — Daniels 3 1-1 10, Beeson 0 0-0 0, Hieber 2 0-1 5, Beiser 6 0-3 13, Landry 2 1-3 5, Jackman 7 5-5 19. Totals 20 7-13 52.
3-point goals — Soldotna 8 (Sheridan 3, Marcuson 2, McElroy 1, Crowder 1, Spence 1); Kenai 5 (Daniels 3, Hieber 1, Beiser 1).
Team fouls — Soldotna 16; Kenai 6. Fouled out — none.
Stars 37, Kardinals 18
Soldotna 7 9 7 14 — 37
Kenai 5 2 4 7 — 18
SOLDOTNA (37) — McGillivray 0 0-0 0, Miller 2 0-0 6, Blossom 2 1-1 5, A. Schmidt 4 3-4 11, Tuttle 0 0-0 0, Tuisaula 3 0-2 6, Kruse 3 0-0 7, Buckbee 0 0-0 0, Wurst 0 0-0 0, D. Schmidt 1 0-2 2. Totals 15 4-9 37.
KENAI (18) — Miller 0 1-1 1, Coghill 1 0-0 2, Machen-Gray 0 0-0 0, Calvert 2 0-0 5, Wilson 0 0-0 0, Creighton 2 1-2 5, Satathite 1 0-0 2, Beck 1 2-4 4, Maw 0 0-0 0. Totals 7 4-7 18.
3-point goals — Soldotna 3 (Miller 2, Kruse 1); Kenai 1 (Calvert 1).