The Soldotna boys escaped with a 46-40 win over Bethel Wednesday night at Soldotna High School, in a nonconference clash that featured teams from two separate classes.
Soldotna, which competes at the Class 4A level in the state of Alaska, and Bethel, which is a 3A team, produced a game of two halves. SoHi streaked out to an early lead but nearly threw it all away.
Ultimately, it was a former 1A star that saved the Stars.
SoHi senior Timmy Smithwick, a transfer from Cook Inlet Academy, swished in a floater with 40 seconds to go that broke a tie game and helped seal the victory.
“I knew we needed a quick bucket to get back on defense,” Smithwick said. “We practice it all the time, because you never know when it’s going to come up.”
Soldotna improved to 3-5 overall with the win.
Smithwick ended the night with 11 points, while sophomore teammate Derek Evans led the Stars with 14, including 10 in the second quarter.
SoHi coach Mark Tuter said after a few early-season struggles, Smithwick has quickly learned to compete at the top level of basketball in the state.
“He’s not afraid,” Tuter said. “We’re just glad he’s on our side.”
A fast start left SoHi with a 25-7 lead midway through the second quarter, sparked by aggressive rebounding on the offensive glass. On numerous occasions, the 6-foot-4 Evans used his height to pick up several missed layups to finally put the ball through the net. At one point in the second quarter, Evans scored on three straight possessions to push SoHi’s lead from eight points to 14.
SoHi led 31-16 at halftime, but the Warriors came out determined in the second half. Tuter said rebounding proved to be the difference between the two halves.
“We just lost focus there,” Tuter said. “But (Bethel) played well. We didn’t keep up our intensity like we needed to, and they wanted it more.”
Bethel sophomore Clevon Constantine provided the spark for the Warriors, scoring seven of the team’s first nine points in the third quarter to close the deficit from 15 points nine. What was once working for Soldotna was now working for Bethel, which was ensnaring offensive rebounds.
Mason Alexie pushed through the lane for a layup with 1:09 left in the third quarter that put Bethel right back in the game, trailing 34-29. Overall, Bethel outscored SoHi 13-4 in the frame.
A 3-pointer by Alexie with six minutes to go in the game tied things up at 35 apiece, then the Warriors took their first lead of the game with 5:06 to go on a free throw by Jayvin Williams. Williams led Bethel with 11 points.
“We arrive for defensive help late,” Tuter said about SoHi’s lack of rebounding in the second half. “If we get there early, we’re in a good position to rebound.”
Smithwick sunk a crucial triple with 4:11 left that gave SoHi the lead back at 38-36, then Caleb Spence tallied two free throws to put the lead at four points.
“I was in rhythm, and I just felt in motion, so I hit it,” Smithwick said. “I trust my two posts down there, Griffin Casey and Derek Evans to get the rebound.”
However, Bethel wasn’t done yet, as Williams came back to hit a running bank shot, then a layup with 59 ticks remaining to tie it up again at 40-all.
That’s when Smithwick took control on the next possession and drove to the rim for a go-ahead floater. It was the second night in a row that Smithwick recorded the final lead change for the Stars, which beat Kenai 57-49 on Tuesday night.
Two pairs of free throws from Dylan Kuntz and Eli Sheridan helped ice the game in the final 23 seconds.
Soldotna goes on the road this weekend for a Northern Lights Conference clash with Wasilla, scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.
Stars 46, Warriors 40
Bethel 6 10 13 11 —40
Soldotna 15 16 4 11 —46
BETHEL (40) — Daniel 0 0-0 0, Flemings 1 5-6 7, Charlie 1 0-0 2, Williams 4 3-9 11, Alexie 2 3-4 8, Fredericks 0 0-0 0, Constantine 3 1-4 7, Kuhne 2 1-2 5. Totals 12 13-25 40.
SOLDOTNA (46) — Kuntz 2 2-2 6, Sheridan 0 2-2 2, McElroy 0 0-0 0, Crowder 0 0-0 0, Casey 3 0-2 6, Spence 2 2-2 7, Dickson 0 0-0 0, Smithwick 4 1-2 11, Evans 7 0-0 14. Totals 18 7-10 46.
3-point shots — Soldotna 3 (Smithwick 2, Spence 1); Bethel 1 (Alexie).
Team fouls — Soldotna 17; Bethel 9. Fouled out — none.