A pair of revamped Soldotna High basketball squads took the court Friday night but still came away with victories to open the season.
The SoHi girls topped nonconferenece 1A opponent Cook Inlet Academy 37-24, while the SoHi boys used a monster third quarter to oust CIA 75-38.
With a chunk of starting seniors leaving both SoHi squads from last year, an infusion of former Skyview players joining, and the change in head coaching positions, the Stars are sporting a different look.
“We’re a very explosive team,” said Mark Tuter, the new head coach of the boys. Tuter spent many previous years as the girls head coach before taking the role of an assistant on the boys side the last several seasons.
“Yesterday was the first day where I thought our offense really clicked, in practice,” Tuter said. “But sometimes against the zone, if you don’t hit that outside shot, it makes it a little more difficult.”
In the boys game, SoHi senior Joe Weltzin — a 6-foot-3 transfer from Washington — led the Stars with 18 points, while fellow senior Nate Spence added 15 as well.
“Our goal this year is to make state, so every practice and game is set toward that,” Spence said. “The last two years we’ve lost in the third-place (region tournament) game, we’ve come within a couple points of making it.”
Spence and Weltzin played big roles in helping the Stars distance themselves from the Eagles in the third quarter. After taking a 33-24 lead into halftime, Soldotna scored 16 unanswered points midway through the third frame to boost its lead to 27.
Spence kickstarted the spurt with two consecutive buckets off of turnovers, and Weltzin brought the energy up in the gym with a two-handed dunk, also off a CIA turnover.
“I think it kind of started with our defense,” Spence said. “A lot of it started with our runouts, Joe had a big dunk there that got us going, and then it’s just a cycle that keeps going.”
Timmy Smithwick led CIA with 16 points, 11 of those coming in the second quarter. Smithwick’s effort was part of a 16-4 run in the quarter that left CIA trailing by a mere five points with under a minute to go before the half.
However, SoHi received two jumpers from seniors Tim Duke and Matt Trammell in the final 30 seconds that put the lead back to nine.
“We had cut it to five, but I knew it would be tough to maintain it that whole game,” said CIA coach Justin Franchino. “What killed us in the first half was offensive rebounding. They got fourteen offensive boards and got a lot of second-chance points.
“They had 15 guys basically they were platooning, and we didn’t.”
The Eagles cut the lead to 38-27 with 5:06 remaining in the third quarter, but from there, the home team reigned supreme. Several costly turnovers by a worn-out CIA bunch led to points by Spence, Weltzin, Drew Fowler, Dylan Kuntz and Duke.
Franchino and Tuter echoed each other and said the key difference in the second half was evident by the depth of the team teams. CIA shared a bench of no more than eight players, while SoHi featured a full bench of about 13. When Tuter began substituting players in for starters, fatigue bit the Eagles.
“We roll about ten or twelve deep,” Tuter said. “That second group came in, and they are smaller guards. They came in and did a great job.”
A smaller run of 10 straight points by SoHi put the game away early in the fourth quarter.
In the girls game, Soldotna similarly used a third quarter charge to distance themselves, then held on for the win with smart play in the fourth.
SoHi senior Hayley Ramsell led the Stars with 11 points, while fellow senior teammate Kelsey Jackson added seven.
CIA was led by Ashleigh Hammond, who scored nine second-half points en route to 10 total. Teammate Danielle Hills added eight.
Former Skyview girls coach Kyle McFall turned out a win in his debut as the SoHi girls coach, and said that while this is room for improvement, there is also much to be proud of.
“I think we had some lapses tonight defensively and offensively, but it’s early, so we can grow from that,” McFall said. “This team has a lot of potential to be great defensively. We’ve just got to learn our systems.”
Kenny Leaf, head coach of the coed soccer team at CIA, coached his first game as a basketball coach Friday, and said the biggest challenge was learning how to react to different situations on court.
“I’m so glad to have some of my assistants in my back pocket,” Leaf said. “For me, this is a big learning experience.”
Along with Leaf, former player Nicole Moffis assisted on the bench, along with Franchino.
“We’ve gotta take care of the ball better,” Leaf said. “The girls know their offensive sets and defensive sets, and offense was our Achilles heal tonight. It was just tough getting shots.”
After a sluggish start by both teams, SoHi ran off 11 unanswered points in the second quarter to bolster its lead to 15-4. In that stretch, every bucket or free throw point was scored by a different player.
After taking a 15-6 lead into halftime, McFall said his players began to execute more efficiently and used better ball distribution.
“We talked about slowing down in the halfcourt, and getting better looks,” McFall said. “We weren’t making smart decisions, we were kind of passing and watching.
“In the second half we started passing and getting in the lanes, and getting open shots.”
After Hammond rolled in a layup just 20 seconds into the second half that cut the deficit to seven points, Ramsell answered with a pair of jumpers that quickly put SoHi back up by 11. After three quarters, the Stars led 27-11.
Stars 75, Eagles 38
Soldotna 21 12 23 19 —75
Cook Inlet 8 16 5 9 —38
SOLDOTNA (75) — Weltzin 8 2-4 18, Spence 6 2-4 15, Kuntz 1 0-0 3, Becher 1 0-0 2, Furlong 3 0-0 7, Phillips 1 0-0 2, Griffen 1 2-2 4, Duke 4 1-2 9, Gibbs 0 0-0 0, Fowler 2 1-2 5, Trammell 4 0-0 8, Dickson 0 0-0 0, Marcuson 1 0-0 2. Totals 32 8-14 75.
CIA (38) — T. Smithwick 6 1-2 16, J. Smithwick 1 4-4 6, Hammond 1 0-0 2, R. Smithwick 1 1-2 4, Miller 2 0-0 5, Barlow 2 0-0 5. Totals 13 6-8 38.
3-point goals — Soldotna 3 (Spence 1, Furlong 1, Kuntz 1); CIA 6 (T. Smithwick 3, R. Smithwick 1, Barlow 1, Miller 1).
Fouled out — none.
Stars 37, Eagles 24
Soldotna 4 11 12 10 —37
Cook Inlet 3 3 5 13 —24
SOLDOTNA (37) — Ramsell 4 3-4 11, Miller 0 6-9 6, Rouse 1 3-4 5, Aley 0 0-0 0, Nelson 2 0-0 4, Schneider 0 0-0 0, Jackson 3 0-0 7, Wong 2 0-0 4, McDonald 0 0-0 0, Glaves 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 12-17 37.
CIA (24) — Hammond 3 3-3 10, Delon 0 0-0 0, Carey 0 0-0 0, Taplin 0 0-0 0, Hills 3 2-4 8, Brush 1 0-1 3, Lyons 0 1-2 1, Orth 1 0-3 2. Totals 8 6-13 24.
3-point goals — Soldotna 1 (Jackson); CIA 2 (Brush 1, Hammond 1).
Fouled out — Hammond.