Soldotna’s David Michael (center) puts up a shot over West’s Shawn Jones (12) Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s David Michael (center) puts up a shot over West’s Shawn Jones (12) Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

SoHi squads win 1st day of 4A state hoops

Survive and advance.

It’s an old cliche that coaches use, but it never loses meaning for basketball teams each March Madness.

The Soldotna girls and boys both survived with that mentality Thursday morning to pick up a pair of thrilling quarterfinal victories over West Anchorage at the Class 4A state tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center.

The SoHi girls got the day started with a gritty 54-50 win over the West girls, then the SoHi boys followed up with a 45-42 upset over the Eagles boys.

It set up two state semifinal matchups for the Stars. The No. 4 SoHi girls will face the top-seeded Dimond Lynx today at 3:30 p.m., while the No. 5 boys get the surprise winners Ketchikan today at 6:30 p.m. The eighth-seeded Kings shocked the No. 1 East Thunderbirds, making SoHi’s quest for a boys title that much more intriguing.

Soldotna boys 45, West 42

Junior guard Jersey Truesdell put on a show for the crowd, scoring 31 points in the team’s state debut. Truesdell poured in 20 in the second half and was 14 for 15 from the foul line overall, including 8 for 9 in the fourth quarter for 12 fourth-quarter points. He also finished 5 for 11 from beyond the 3-point line.

Truesdell broke a tie game with 22.3 seconds remaining by making one of two from the line, putting SoHi ahead 43-42, then knocked down two more with 2.2 seconds after an empty West possession left to push the lead to three. The Eagles hurled one last 3-point lob at the rim but fell short at the buzzer.

Truesdell said the victory gives SoHi a much better standing with the rest of the state, and added that he hopes the victory erased doubts after the heartbreak of losing the conference title to Palmer on the team’s home court.

“It proves what kind of team we are,” Truesdell said. “It proves that Palmer game didn’t set us back at all, losing that game on our home floor. It proves that this group of guys is different than the past, and we’re a team that can play the game of basketball.”

He added that online criticism was also something he hopes to put a damper on.

“You always say you don’t look at what people say about your game on social media and stuff,” Truesdell said. “On MaxPreps, there were some older dudes on there saying we were going to lose by 22 (points) … This is kind of proving them wrong.”

Head coach Nolan Rose said the Stars have a locker room full of capable role players, but when Truesdell is locked in and shooting well, the opposing team is hard-pressed to find a way to slow him down.

“He made third-team all-state, but really he’s as good as any player in state,” Rose said. “Thirty-one points in his first game at state and the other team knows he’s our guy. It’s pretty impressive.”

The win avenged a 58-57 loss to West Anchorage from a Feb. 9 regular-season meeting, and Thursday’s quarterfinal was just as close. The lead was never more than four points, with the exception of a brief span when SoHi went up 36-31 in the fourth quarter, and there were a total of 16 lead changes throughout.

The Eagles got their contributions from senior Diques Esaw (13 points), junior Jamari Lawrence (11) and senior Joel Martinez (9 rebounds). Behind Truesdell, the Stars got six points from David Michael and six boards from Ray Chumley.

In the style of what Rose calls a “Northern Lights Conference” game, the Stars defense kept the Eagles from spreading the floor and turning the game into a glorified track race. Instead of using speed and length to roll up the score, West struggled to break out.

“They came out and played a 2-3 zone, so that helped us,” Rose said. “So right off the bat, we were able to have long, patient possessions without a lot of pressure.”

SoHi led much of the first half but trailed 20-19 at halftime. With Truesdell heating up in the third quarter with two triples, the Stars continued to keep the iron hot against the Eagles.

A Truesdell 3 with 7:07 left in the fourth quarter gave SoHi a 36-31 lead, but the Eagles answered with a trey by Leland Wilson, then consecutive buckets from Esaw that put West ahead 38-36.

The Eagles went up 42-40 with 2:20 left on a steal and finish by Esaw, but it would be short-lived as David Michael caught a pass from a teammate off a rebound and scored to tie things up.

An out-of-bounds call originally went SoHi’s way with 22.3 seconds left, but the refs overturned it to give SoHi the ball. West fouled Truesdell on the ensuing pass and Truesdell stepped up for the big shots to help seal the win.

With Ketchikan standing between SoHi and a state final appearance Saturday, the Stars on on the precipice of breaking a 10-year drought. The last time SoHi competed in the state final was 2009, when the Stars lost in double overtime to Dimond.

“I drove up here the last two years to watch the championship games, so I want to play in that game,” Truesdell said. “It would be huge for our program, it would be a huge building block for us and my teammates.”

Soldotna girls 54, West 50

With the memories of the Northern Lights Conference championship loss rapidly fading, the SoHi girls turned in a big performance Thursday morning to secure a spot in the state semifinals.

The Stars will need an even bigger performance Friday as they take on top-seeded Dimond, which harbors the three-time defending Class 4A Girls Player of the Year in Alissa Pili.

“They’re a really good team with the best player in the state,” said junior Ituau Tuisaula. “But I feel that if we play our hardest, it’ll be a good game.”

Tuisaula led the Stars over the Eagles with 13 points and 17 rebounds, including going 9 for 14 from the foul line, but said the team is looking for more.

“It definitely is a big win off our shoulders, but we’ve still got a big game (Friday) and we don’t want to settle for this one,” Tuisaula said. “We want to keep going and do the best that we can.”

In the program’s first state appearance in five year, head coach Kyle McFall praised the players’ ability to shake off the early nerves and execute like they have all year. In the first half, SoHi shot 56 percent from the floor, hitting 13 field goals total.

“I think being on this stage impacted our focus a little bit,” McFall said. “But now we’ve got it out of our system, tomorrow night we won’t be making the same mistakes.”

SoHi also got big days from senior guard Aliann Schmidt, who posted 14 points and eight boards, Brittani Blossom, who notched 13 points, and Danica Schmidt, who grabbed six boards. Blossom drained a clutch 3-pointer with 3:06 left in the game to put SoHi up six points for a comfortable margin.

SoHi prevailed over West 60-52 in a Feb. 9 meeting at the Lady Lynx Prep Shootout, but that came without West’s top scorer, Nyeniea John. Tuisuala said in practice, McFall acted out the role of John during drills, which helped prepare the Stars for a big test.

“He wanted us to attack really hard and get us used to boxing out against her,” Tuisaula said. “That’s kind of like a fun way to we get ready for opponents.”

SoHi held John to nine points and eight boards. The Eagles got their biggest game from Naialani Felix, who recorded 13 points.

Soldotna led 25-16 at one point in the first half, and led 33-25 at the halftime break. In the third quarter, the Stars hit six of eight foul shots, five of those from Tuisaula, to take a 45-35 edge heading into the fourth quarter.

However, West had one last run coming with a 9-0 streak, thanks to two 3-pointers from Felix and Juliette Adlawan that cut the lead to 45-44 with 4:40 remaining.

McFall said the momentum swings likely helped SoHi stay sharp as they were never able to let their guard up.

“Every time we would go on a run, they would fight back,” he said. “Then we would fight back, so it was a great game in terms of effort and determination.”

Soldotna finally rediscovered its groove with a putback bucket by Kalyn McGillivray with 4:02 left that pushed the lead to 47-44, and Blossom connected on a huge trey with 3:06 left that forged a 50-44 game. Aliann Schmidt’s second-chance layup off a rebound with 2:13 left helped stave off the Eagles’ desperation attempts.

With the top-seeded Lynx facing the Stars in Friday’s semi, McFall said the matchup comes down to one player.

“Number one, we’ve got to stop Alissa,” McFall said. “We’ve just got to understand that if we play our game, we’ll be right there. We were right there the last time with them, we’ve got to lock down Alissa.

“We’re looking forward to it.”

Thursday girls

Stars 54, Eagles 50

Soldotna 16 17 12 9 —54

West 10 15 10 15 —50

SOLDOTNA (54) — McGillivray 4, Blossom 13, A. Schmidt 14, Tuisaula 13, Holland 0, Crosby-Schneider 6, D. Schmidt 4.

WEST (50) — Pedebone 5, Huss 0, Felix 13, Lauaki 7, John 9, Ljena 0, Mueller 5, Adlawan 3, Galloway-Davis 8.

3-point FG — Soldotna 3 (Blossom 3); West 5 (Pedebone 1, Felix 1, Lauaki 1, Mueller 1, Adlawan 1).

Team fouls — Soldotna 8; West 15. Fouled out — none.

Thursday boys

Stars 45, Eagles 42

Soldotna 12 7 12 14 —45

West 11 9 10 12 —42

SOLDOTNA (45) — Rich 0, Morrison 2, Hanson 0, Chumley 2, Truesdell 31, Kant 4, Michael 6.

WEST (42) — Esaw 13, Lawrence 11, Jackson 2, Martinez 6, Jones 0, John 0, Fick 0, Johnson 5, Grant 1, Snow 4, Muehlenkamp 0.

3-point FG — Soldotna 5 (Truesdell 5); West 2 (Johnson 1, Lawrence 1).

Team fouls — Soldotna 6; West 15. Fouled out — none.

Soldotna’s Jersey Truesdell (left) jukes to the right of West defender Traivar Jackson, Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Jersey Truesdell (left) jukes to the right of West defender Traivar Jackson, Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Brock Kant (left) wrestles with West’s Anthony Snow for a rebound Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Brock Kant (left) wrestles with West’s Anthony Snow for a rebound Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Danica Schmidt surveys the West Anchorage defense Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Danica Schmidt surveys the West Anchorage defense Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Aliann Schmidt jumps up for a shot attempt Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, against West Anchorage at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Aliann Schmidt jumps up for a shot attempt Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, against West Anchorage at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Drysta Crosby-Schneider (30) lays in a bucket over a West defender Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Drysta Crosby-Schneider (30) lays in a bucket over a West defender Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Ituau Tuisaula (13) puts up a shot over West’s Juliette Adlawan, Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Ituau Tuisaula (13) puts up a shot over West’s Juliette Adlawan, Thursday, Mar. 21, 2019, at the Class 4A state championship tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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