The blossoming distance-running phenom from Alaska that finally burst onto the national scene over the past year proved to the crowd Saturday at Cliff Massie court in Kenai that she’s not only a runner.
Allie Ostrander can win basketball games too.
What can’t the Kenai senior do well?
“They definitely don’t want me on the swim team,” she said.
It’s the shot of dreams for every high school senior. With the game deadlocked at 35-35, Ostrander received the ball from teammate Abby Beck at the top of the 3-point arc and unleashed the game-winner with 2.7 seconds on the clock. Pandemonium ensued immediately thereafter.
“I thought, ‘Man, we’ve gotta get a shot off,’ so I didn’t think, I just took it,” Ostrander said.
Of course, it only counted for third place in the Northern Lights Conference girls tournament, but the Kardinals went out in style, beating Kodiak for the first time all year with a 38-35 victory.
The shot left the audience in a frenzy as the home team joyously hugged each other in a scrum at midcourt.
“It’s a perfect ending for us,” said Kenai coach Stacia Rustad. “The kids executed perfectly, they knew we were gonna have that last shot, and Peanut hit a huge shot.”
Rustad had already praised Ostrander — who has been given the nickname “Peanut” by her team — as one of the better defenders in the state. But for Ostrander and teammate Hannah Barcus, they could not have scripted an end to their senior seasons any better.
“It was crazy,” Ostrander said. “Definitely the best part of my senior year.”
Kodiak defeated Kenai twice this year, both games on Kodiak Island. But the Kards hit back at just the right time. Kenai also hit double-digit wins overall with a 10-15 record, the first in at least three years.
Preceding the big moment, Kenai had to fend off the persistent Bears, who made up an eight-point deficit in the final 3:02 to tie the game with 29 seconds left.
Trailing 19-15 at halftime, Kenai used its notoriously stingy defense to hold Kodiak to one field goal through the third quarter and half of the fourth. When Kodiak scored only its second bucket of the second half with 4:33 to go in the game, Kenai was in the midst of a 13-2 run.
“I gave them an encouraging talk at halftime, and I thought in the second half, offensively we did very well,” Rustad said. “We were moving the ball much more efficiently around their zone, looking for that quick reversal, and getting good looks.”
With 3:34 to go, Ostrander hit a pair of free throws to give Kenai a 30-23, two-possession lead.
On the next Kards possession, Beck stepped up and hit two free throws to put Kenai’s lead at 32-24.
However, Kodiak was preparing for one last surge. Dannika Catt converted a pair of freebies with 2:29 left to make it a one-possession game at 32-29. Then, following another round of successful Ostrander free throws, Stephanie Price dribbled downcourt and laid in a bucket to put Kenai’s lead at 34-31.
With 38 seconds remaining, Catt collected the ball and sunk a triple to close the gap to 35-34, and on the ensuing Kenai possession, Price grabbed a steal and was fouled, putting her at the line for two shots with 29 seconds left. Price made the first but missed the second. The sequence ultimately set up the late heroics by Ostrander.
Kodiak fell into a zone defense in an attempt to stop Beck from getting space under the basket, but didn’t think to guard the petite guard at the top of the arc as closely.
Rustad said after that happened, she took a momentary glance over the crowd to see the fans — even the non-Kenai supporters — cheering wildly.
“You can’t ask for anything better than that. I couldn’t be prouder of my kids,” Rustad said. “For us to pull through and get the ‘W’ is such an amazing feat for us, because we just haven’t been in those situations that many times.”
Palmer boys 67, Soldotna 58
A day after losing in the Northern Lights Conference semifinals, the Soldotna and Palmer boys finished off their seasons Saturday afternoon at Kenai with the Moose gaining a 67-58 win over the Stars.
With one senior on the varsity roster that will be gone next year, and the emergence of 6-foot-5 freshman Clayton Southwick, the Palmer boys seemingly have a bright future ahead of them.
Soldotna swept Palmer in three regular season meetings, which is part of the reason why Palmer coach Brandon Blake was pleased Saturday.
“For my young team to come out and play hard and perform, it was a good way to end the season,” Blake said. “Obviously we want to get to the state tournament, but for this team to finish the year playing strong, I’m just really happy with it.”
Soldotna coach Mark Tuter said he was content with a season that saw SoHi adjusting to compete with a rearranged lineup.
“We should’ve won a few more games,” Tuter said. “But I think we grew as a team and got a lot better from where we started, especially when we had to fit all the pieces together.”
Seniors Nate Spence, Joe Weltzin, Brooks Furlong, Hunter Phillips, Tim Duke, Drew Fowler and Matt Trammell played their final game as a SoHi player, but Tuter said with another influx of upcoming talent, there is confidence that the Stars will return with another strong shot at success.
“We’re going to be a real competitive team next year, I think we’ll contend for state,” Tuter said. “We have some really good young players coming up, and I feel good about the future of SoHi basketball.”
In Saturday’s game, Palmer poured in 47 points second-half points, and outscored SoHi 24-12 in the third quarter. James Blake led the Moose with 22 points, going 12-for-14 from the free throw line. Palmer went 21-for-34 overall from the line.
Weltzin scored 18 points, including 16 in the second half, to lead Soldotna, while Spence netted 17 and Furlong had eight.
Palmer jumped out to an early 12-4 lead, but with Spence working the area under the rim with efficiency, the Stars managed to close the gap. With 3:20 left in the first half, Phillips drove down the lane and put in a layup to put SoHi ahead 17-16, adding a point on an ensuing foul shot.
Soldotna held a 22-20 lead at halftime, a surprising stat as the Stars were hit with three technical fouls. Weltzin was hit with a technical early in the first quarter, and was followed by a Duke tech early in the second quarter and Phillips late in the frame.
“I’d never seen it ever, in thirty years of coaching,” Tuter said. “The first two were for complaining about the calls, and the last one was for a facial expression. Never seen it like that, especially in a third-place game.”
The Moose came out charging in the third quarter, beginning with a triple by James Blake just 50 seconds into the half that gave Palmer a 23-22 lead. Southwick added to the lead with a putback bucket on the next possession.
Blake said he thought the third quarter was a product of his group competing as a team, rather than individuals.
“We had a little chat at halftime about playing together and as a team,” Blake said. “With a young team, sometimes that’s what they need, and they responded really well today.”
Furlong hit a trey to tie it up at 27-apiece with 4:46 left in the third quarter, but that would be the last sniff of the lead for SoHi. Palmer jumped back out front, extending their lead to 38-29.
Ramoth and Southwick nailed successive 3-pointers at the end of the quarter to push Palmer’s lead to 44-32. The closest that the Stars would get from there would be seven points with under three minutes to play.
At the end of the season, Tuter said he is looking forward to returning next year, and also praised the effort and help of his coaching staff, which includes Doug Blossom and Nolan Rose.
Colony boys 44, Wasilla 39
After two straight years of losing the Northern Lights Conference tournament final, the Colony boys are finally headed off to state as champions.
Led by the 12 points of junior Bailey West — who also laid in a pivotal layup in the waning moments of the game — the Knights claimed the NLC title with a win Saturday over Valley rival Wasilla on Cliff Massie court in Kenai.
After getting through to the championship final but losing the previous two years, West said it was nice to come out on top for once.
“I saw the open lane and my teammates cleared out, but two guys came over and I was afraid of taking a charge, so I kind of spun it, and laid it up,” West said. “Crowd went wild, that was it.”
In title matchups, Colony lost to Kodiak last year, Palmer in 2013 and Wasilla in 2012. Saturday’s win was also a burden off the shoulders of Colony coach Tom Berg.
“You certainly want to win when you get opportunities,” Berg said. “You try to explain that to your guys, but you can’t really explain it.
“I’m so proud of this group of guys to battle through, with injuries, guys playing new roles down the stretch, it was great to see.”
Robert Sonnenberg chipped in 10 points for Colony and Ethan Selmer added eight.
Isaac Houck and Cameron Brown led the Warriors with 12 points apiece, and Koby Burns added seven.
Wasilla girls 32, Colony 27
Wasilla’s Leya DePriest knocked in the winning layup with 40 seconds left in Saturday’s title tilt to send the Warriors back to the big dance for the fourth time in five years.
“We’ve been trying to get her to use her left hand all year,” said Wasilla coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax. “It was a big bucket and it was a big free throw.”
DePriest — a 6-foot-3 junior — led Wasilla with nine points in a defensive affair, one in which Colony was held to seven first-half points, and Wasilla was held to 10 second-half points. Azlynn Brandenburg and Cassidy Edwards each netted six points for Wasilla as well.
Chase Stephens led Colony with nine points, while Ashley Turcotte added eight. No player from either team ended with double-digit scoring.
Last year, Wasilla saw its three-year run of state championships come to an end in the NLC tournament.
After missing out due to a semifinal loss, the Warriors held out hope for an at-large bid with the Winning Percentage Index, but missed out on that method as well by a slim margin.
Wasilla didn’t have to sweat it out this time, though, as a 40-18 semifinal win Friday over host school Kenai locked up a spot at state.
Kardinals 38, Bears 35
Kodiak 11 8 2 13 —35
Kenai 8 7 9 14 —38
KENAI (38) — Ostrander 3 4-4 13, Holmes 1 1-2 3, Drury 0 0-0 0, Steinbeck 0 4-8 4, Baker 0 0-0 0, Booth 0 0-0 0, Barcus 1 2-2 4, Beck 5 2-5 12, Every 1 0-0 2. Totals 12 13-21 38.
KODIAK (35) — Walker 1 0-0 2, Fangonilo 2 0-0 4, Hughes 1 2-2 4, Price 5 4-7 14, Fabricante 1 0-1 2, Catt 3 2-7 9, Hernandez 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 8-16 35.
3-point goals — Kenai 3 (Ostrander 3); Kodiak 1 (Catt). Fouled out — Fabricante.
Moose 67, Stars 58
Soldotna 9 13 12 24 —58
Palmer 13 7 24 23 —67
SOLDOTNA (58) — Duke 0 0-0 0, Kuntz 0 0-0 0, Weltzin 8 2-6 18, Gibbs 0 0-0 0, Furlong 3 1-2 8, Phillips 1 2-6 4, Spence 7 3-4 17, Fowler 1 3-6 5, Trammell 2 0-0 6. Totals 22 11-24 58.
PALMER (67) — Ramoth 4 0-0 10, Debach 1 2-5 4, Ferris 2 1-2 5, Hughes-Duffy 0 0-0 0, Southwick 3 4-6 10, Blake 4 12-14 22, Snickers 4 2-7 12, Yanez 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 21-34 67.
3-point goals — Soldotna 3 (Trammell 2, Furlong 1); Palmer 6 (Ramoth 2, Blake 2, Snickers 2). Fouled out — Duke, Ferris.