Separated for the first time by different classes based on school size, the Kenai Central and Soldotna basketball programs showed Saturday afternoon that rivalries still matter.
On Kenai’s home floor, Cliff Massie Court, the Stars boys and girls swept their way to nonconference victories, with the SoHi girls escaping with a 52-38 win and the SoHi boys pulling out a 52-40 triumph.
Kenai dropped most of its sports programs down to the Class 3A level last fall after school population differences determined Kenai was better suited for the division while Soldotna stayed at 4A.
The energy was still just as strong as the crowd size proved.
“We’re always ready to go,” said SoHi senior Brittani Blossom. “We play up for each other.”
“They bring it every single night against us,” added SoHi junior Jersey Truesdell. “Every time we play, it’s going to be a good game.
“A great example is (Kenai guard Andrew) Bezdecny. When he moved in eighth grade, he didn’t know anybody, and now he shows up and it’s a rivalry already.”
The Soldotna girls won their fifth straight to jump to 21-2 overall, while Kenai dropped to 15-8. On the boys side, Soldotna improved to 12-9 overall while Kenai dropped to 12-10.
The Kardinals will get another crack at the Stars in just two days when Kenai visits SoHi Tuesday night.
Kenai shadowed Soldotna all the way in the girls game. A trey by Jaycie Calvert with 3:42 left in the game cut SoHi’s lead to 41-35, but the Stars had one last surge in them.
Ituau Tuisaula kick-started an 11-0 run that sealed the victory with consecutive drives to the rim for baskets, then Blossom netted the dagger with a 3-pointer with 2:27 left, and SoHi’s six-point lead had suddenly ballooned to 13. Blossom’s trey was set up by a steal from Danica Schmidt that eventually found its way to Blossom at the arc.
Blossom and Tuisaula combined to score all 11 points in the SoHi run, which ended with a putback by Tuisaula with 1:11 left.
“We just finally started playing our game,” said SoHi head coach Kyle McFall. “Kenai does a good job of getting you out of your game, and they have done that to us for the last couple years, and they did that for the first 28 minutes of that game.
“And finally we got going back in our game.”
Blossom scored nine of her 15 points in the fourth quarter, while teammate Ituau Tuisaula led SoHi with 20 points and Aliann Schmidt notched 10.
Brooke Satathite led Kenai’s attack with 13 points.
Kardinals head coach Cary Calvert didn’t provide many answers to what went wrong for Kenai, but he did give credit to Tuisaula’s effectiveness in the post.
“Ituau wore us out,” Calvert said. “And SoHi has no holes, no weaknesses. It seemed to go from a six-point game to 15 overnight.”
Before the late run by SoHi, Kenai never trailed by more than nine points, and much of that was due to Satathite’s post presence and Jaycie Calvert’s deadly long-range shooting.
At halftime, SoHi’s lead was 28-21, which then became 35-30 after three quarters.
In the boys game, Kenai was up 36-35 late in the third quarter before the Stars staged a furious 12-0 run to distance themselves.
“We were stuck on 36 (points) for quite awhile there,” said Kenai head coach Ken Felchle.
Truesdell proved to be a difference-maker for SoHi with 29 points, including five 3s. Truesdell tallied seven points in the SoHi run, then buried a 3-pointer with 3:40 to go in the game to effectively nail the door shut. The long shot put SoHi up 50-38.
“I think it was just our poise on the offensive end,” Truesdell said. “Being able to move the ball and not turn it over. We’ve been a team that’s come out flat and have had to fight back, so it’s a huge step to come out and play good throughout the game.”
Stars head coach Nolan Rose praised Truesdell’s showing.
“He’s been doing that all year,” Rose said. “He’s kind of our go-to guy. He’s able to make something out of nothing a lot of times, that the other team can’t really plan for.”
Rose added that the SoHi defense came up with a few key stops down the stretch when they needed it most, while the offense kept a strong handle on the ball on the other end of the court.
“Defensively, we weren’t that good in the first half, and once we got locked in, we got some separation,” Rose said. “You’re going to go through slumps offensively, so defense becoming consistent for us is what we’ve hung our hat on all year.”
The Stars also had Ray Chumley back for a second straight game after missing games to injury. Chumley notched nine points against Kenai.
Kenai came out with a 14-9 lead in the first quarter thanks to strong movement by Bezdecny, who had five points after sinking a trey with 2:32 left.
Truesdell, however, brought SoHi right back into it with a pair of 3s in the final 48 seconds of the opening quarter to give the Stars a 17-14 edge.
Kenai bumped its lead back to 26-22 late in the second quarter, but Truesdell again swapped it in favor of SoHi with a triple that helped put the Stars in the lead 29-26 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Tyrone McEnerney hit his second trey of the game, then was followed by Trujillo’s putback bucket with 2:48 left in the third to give Kenai a 36-35 advantage, but Truesdell kicked off the final big run by SoHi with a long shot at the 2:26 mark of the frame.
The 12-0 run was capped by a block by David Michael and putback field goal by Tyler Morrison with 6:04 remaining in the fourth quarter, giving SoHi a 47-36 lead.
Stars 52, Kardinals 38
Soldotna 16 12 7 17 —52
Kenai 10 11 9 8 —38
SOLDOTNA (52) — McGillivray 2, Blossom 15, A. Schmidt 10, Bouschor 0, Tuisaula 20, Holland 0, Crosby-Schneider 5, D. Schmidt 0.
KENAI (38) — Calvert 9, Gallaway 0, Hamilton 2, Maw 7, Hanson 5, Streiff 0, L. Satathite 2, B. Satathite 13.
3-point FG — Soldotna 4 (Blossom 2, A. Schmidt 2); Kenai 5 (Calvert 3, Maw 1, Hanson 1).
Team fouls — Soldotna 7; Kenai 10. Fouled out — none.
Stars 52, Kardinals 40
Soldotna 17 12 11 12 —52
Kenai 14 12 10 4 —40
SOLDOTNA (52) — Rich 0, Morrison 2, Hanson 5, Chumley 9, Truesdell 29, Kant 6, Rosin 0, Michael 1.
KENAI (40) — Efta 5, Felchle 7, Baker 2, Custodio 0, Bezdecny 9, McEnerney 8, Stockton 0, Trujillo 9, McKibben 0.
3-point FG — Soldotna 8 (Truesdell 5, Chumley 2, Kant 1); Kenai 5 (McEnerney 2, Felchle 1, Bezdecny 1, Trujillo 1).
Team fouls — Soldotna 10; Kenai 16. Fouled out — none.