Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski senior Nathan Carstens (center) attempts to swat away a rebound from Grace guard Nate Salima (left) in Friday's semifinal contest at the Southcentral Conference tournament at Grace Christian High.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski senior Nathan Carstens (center) attempts to swat away a rebound from Grace guard Nate Salima (left) in Friday's semifinal contest at the Southcentral Conference tournament at Grace Christian High.

Southcentral boys: WPI berth gives Nikiski boys hope

The Nikiski boys capped a doubleheader hoops Saturday with a dominant 74-39 victory over Seward in the Southcentral Conference third-place game, but the Bulldogs were left in a state of doubt after the contest about their chances of going to the Class 3A state tournament.

The Bulldogs celebrated the win over Seward but their first trip to state since 2002 remained up in the air due to the closeness of the Winning Percentage Index standings.

Although an automatic bid to the 3A state tournament went up in smoke with a 67-43 semifinal loss to Grace Christian on Friday night, the possibility of grabbing an at-large bid via the WPI still existed for Nikiski after the game.

Barrow, Bethel, Grace, ACS, Sitka and Delta Junction all picked up automatic state spots with their region tournament results by Friday night, which left Monroe Catholic and Nikiski in a battle for the sole WPI bid Saturday. As of Wednesday, Monroe held a significant advantage over Nikiski with the second-best WPI spot, while Nikiski was seventh.

The big news was that Monroe was upset by third-seeded Delta in the boys championship Friday, but still grabbed an automatic bid with a 56-45 win over Valdez in the tournament second-place contest Saturday. That appears to have left the lone WPI spot available for Nikiski to pick up.

“There’s still a chance with the WPI,” said Nikiski coach Reid Kornstad after Friday’s game. “It’s not something we talked about, but it’s possible.”

Nikiski’s closest competition in the WPI was Galena, which sat right under the Bulldogs in the standings at eighth place. The final WPI count will include tournament competition, and Nikiski went 3-1 over the weekend, beating Homer, Houston and Seward but losing to powerhouse team Grace. In the Aurora Conference tournament, Galena went 1-2 with a win over Eielson and losses to Delta and Valdez.

The official announcement of the statebound teams for both 3A and 4A boys and girls tournaments will be Sunday at 7 p.m. with a live stream at Kornstad said he and his players will be watching with high anticipation.

“It’ll be pretty tough to take if we don’t make it, but we’re pretty hopeful,” Kornstad said. “It’s looking good right now.”

Saturday against Seward, the Bulldogs showered the Seahawks with nine 3-pointers, led by Nathan Carstens’ four triples. Carstens led Nikiski with 20 points, while Ian Johnson and Javon Pamplin both added 12 and Cade Anderson notched 11.

Seward’s leading scorer was Thomas Zweifel, who converted all six free throws he took to end with 11 points.

After a 56-45 win over Houston on Saturday morning put Nikiski into the third-place matchup with Seward, Kornstad said his players simply rediscovered the same magic they possessed earlier in the year that led to a 12-2 start to the season.

“The guys found their confidence in closing out Houston, and we closed it out against Seward,” he said. “They were hitting 3s and rebounding really well.”

Nikiski did most of its damage in the middle portion of the game, outscoring Seward a combined 54-18 in the second and third quarters. Seward coach Al Plan decided to put his bench players in at about the midway point of the second quarter and left them in until halftime.

In a particular span in the second quarter, Nikiski outscored Seward 28-4 to take a 30-point lead. Another big 20-5 scoring run in the third quarter iced the game before the final period of play.

Nikiski boys 56, Houston 45

The Bulldogs advanced themselves to Saturday’s third-place game with an early win over Houston.

Cade Anderson and Nathan Carstens led Nikiski with 13 points apiece. Carstens scored 12 in the fourth quarter alone.

Houston led 25-23 at halftime and 39-35 after three quarters, but Nikiski poured on the steam to claim the victory, outscoring the Hawks 21-6 in the final eight minutes of action.

Seward boys 64, Homer 58

The Seahawks moved on to the tournament third-place game with a Saturday morning win over the Mariners.

Seward sealed the win late with clutch free throw shooting by Ronnie Jackson and Thomas Zweifel. Jackson hit all four shots he took from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter to finish with a game-high 22 points, and Zweifel went 7 for 8 in the second half to end with 11 points. Overall, Seward sunk 22 of 26 free throws in the game.

Koby Etzwiler and Jordan Beachy led Homer with 19 points each, including five 3-pointers from Etzwiler and four from Beachy.


Grace Christian boys 67, Nikiski 43

The Grizzlies punched their ticket to state and advanced to Saturday’s Southcentral Conference championship game with a convincing win Friday over the Bulldogs.

Kornstad said Nikiski’s biggest detriment was turnovers.

“You can’t beat a team like that with turnovers,” Kornstad said. “I don’t know why we did that.”

Nikiski senior Luke Johnson led the Bulldogs with 17 points, while Nathan Carstens chipped in eight. On defense, Carstens held one of Grace’s top players — Tobin Karlberg — in check for most of the night. Karlberg managed just 11 points for the Grizzlies.

However, it was Grace’s other big gun, Trevor Osborne, that got away from the Bulldogs. Osborne pumped in 17 points to lead Grace, and teammate Brogan Nieder scored 11 in the second quarter to finish with 17.

“(Karlberg and Osborne) are two of the best players in our region, and they hurt us tonight,” Kornstad said.

Hunter Holloway, one of Nikiski’s top scorers, was held to two points, both on free throws.

Grace coach Jason Boerger pointed to the team’s role players as the difference in the game, adding that sophomore center Jimmy McGovern and perimeter specialist Nieder gave the Grizzlies a shot in the arm when Osborne was on the bench.

“Our role guys kept us going, and we wanted to keep them in to control the tempo,” Boerger said. “Trevor always shoots well, but he also rebounded and defended well today.”

A 9-0 start to the game by Grace was nearly wiped out with three straight scoring possessions by Nikiski late in the first quarter. Two of those buckets came courtesy of Luke Johnson, whose driving layup with 1:18 left in the frame earned him a free throw as well, which he hit to close Grace’s lead to 9-7.

However, Grace opened the second quarter on an 11-0 run, starting with Nieder’s trey and ending with McGovern’s second-chance layup with 4:26 to go in the first half.

Grace outscored Nikiski 21-6 in the second quarter, and in the final two minutes, Grace managed to distance itself with three straight buckets on rebounding and Nikiski turnovers. Nieder laid in two transition buckets to give the Grizzlies a 28-11 lead over Nikiski, and a midrange jumper from Noah Shamburger in the final seconds of the half gave Grace a 30-13 lead.

Grace outscored Nikiski 19-14 in the third quarter to stake out a 49-27 lead. In the fourth quarter, the dagger shot came courtesy of Osborne, who nailed a 3-pointer with 4:12 to play that gave Grace a 25-point lead.

ACS boys 76, Seward 46

An early attempt of slowing the pace against the high-energy Lions worked only so long for Seward.

ACS overpowered Seward in Friday’s semifinal round to advance to the tournament championship and punch its ticket to state.

The Lions showered the Seahawks with 12 3-pointers en route to the win, led by five from Orlando Lozano, who finished with 15 points. Trey Huckabay hit three 3s to end up with 15 points and Danilo Guzman scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half for ACS.

“They tried to slow us down early, but we just worked hard to play our team defense,” said ACS coach Zack Madren. “We stuck to the game plan, and it was tough because Ronnie (Jackson) is a good shooter.”

Ronnie Jackson was Seward’s leading scorer, pouring in four triples for a game-high 16 points. The Seahawks will attempt to play for third place beginning with a matchup against Homer Saturday at 10:45 a.m. Seward swept Homer this season with wins of 83-49 and 63-60 at home and 60-52 on the road.

Seward coach Al Plan said once ACS began pouring on the triples, the Seahawks were forced to adjust.

“We were banking on making them beat us outside early, but we had to kind of change our plan because they were shooting so well,” Plan said. “Then we were struggling to get rebounds and there wasn’t many second-chance opportunities for us.”

With four players standing above 6-foot-4 — topped out by 6-7 sophomore Chester Makoi — ACS featured plenty of height over Seward’s smaller guards and thus won the rebounding battle on many occasions. To make matters worse, the Lion’s attack from beyond the arc was keeping Seward’s comeback attempts at bay.

“We were packing it inside to get looks, but when you got to make a choice on what to give up defensively, it’s very tough,” Plan said. “Against a team this athletic, we had to change our strategy.”

Lozano pumped in three 3s in a span of 2:07 late in the first quarter to give ACS a 14-10 lead, but Jackson kept things interesting with a pair of treys of his own, helping Seward to stay close. ACS led 17-13 after one quarter.

However, three more shots from beyond the arc in the first 2:45 of the second quarter quickly pushed the lead out to 26-13 for ACS. Another shot by Lozano from the corner put the Lions up 33-18, and a bucket by Guzman on a nifty assist from Jason Cho extended the lead to 39-18 with 1:26 to play in the first half. The Lions led 39-22 at the break after outscoring Seward 22-9 in the second quarter.

Jackson knocked down a pair of 3s midway through the third quarter to give Seward a fighting chance, helping to close the lead to 45-32, but Lozano fired back with 3:02 left in the frame. A corner shot from Huckabay resulted in a 51-34 advantage for ACS, and the Lions led 56-38 by the end of the quarter.

A trio of baskets by the Lions in the early minutes of the fourth quarter helped ice the game up.

“I’m proud of this team, these guys constantly gave a great effort this year,” Plan said. “They’re a fun group to be around.”

Saturday boys

Bulldogs 74, Seahawks 39

Seward 10 6 12 11 —39

Nikiski 16 30 24 4 —74

SEWARD (39) — Berry 4 0-0 9, Hauze 0 0-0 0, Estes 0 0-0 0, Zweifel 2 6-6 11, Kratz 0 0-0 0, Brewi 1 0-0 3, Jacobson 2 2-2 7, Sieverts 2 0-0 4, Pahno 0 0-0 0, Jackson 1 1-2 3, Petrosius 0 2-2 2. Totals 12 11-12 39.

NIKISKI (74) — I. Johnson 5 2-3 12, Anderson 4 2-2 11, L. Johnson 0 1-2 1, Kornstad 2 0-0 5, Holloway 3 0-0 7, Handley 0 0-1 0, Tauriainen 2 0-0 6, Ellis 0 0-0 0, Carstens 7 2-2 20, Pamplin 6 0-0 12. Totals 29 9-10 74.

3-point goals — Seward 4 (Berry, Zweifel, Brewi, Jacobson); Nikiski 9 (Carstens 4, Tauriainen 2, Anderson 1, Kornstad 1, Holloway 1).

Team fouls — Seward 13; Nikiski 15. Fouled out — none.

Bulldogs 56, Hawks 45

Houston 11 14 14 6 —45

Nikiski 13 10 12 21 —56

HOUSTON (45) — Taylor 7 3-4 21, Taylor 1 1-3 3, Wyrick 0 0-1 0, Ross 0 2-2 2, Pelesasa 0 0-0 0, Graham 1 1-2 4, Bitler 4 7-10 15. Totals 13 14-22 45.

NIKISKI (56) — I. Johnson 1 3-5 5, Anderson 4 2-2 13, L. Johnson 3 0-0 6, Kornstad 1 0-0 3, Holloway 3 1-4 9, Tauriainen 1 0-0 3, Carstens 3 5-6 13, Pamplin 1 2-2 4. Totals 17 13-19 56.

3-point goals — Houston 5 (Taylor 4, Graham 1); Nikiski 9 (Anderson 3, Holloway 2, Carstens 2, Kornstad 1, Tauriainen 1).

Team fouls — Houston 18; Nikiski 18. Fouled out — Taylor, Graham.

Friday boys

Grizzlies 67, Bulldogs 43

Nikiski 7 6 14 16 —43

Grace 9 21 19 18 —67

NIKISKI (43) — I. Johnson 0 0-4 0, Anderson 2 0-0 4, L. Johnson 6-7 17, Kornstad 1 0-0 2, Holloway 0 2-2 2, Tauriainen 2 0-0 6, Carstens 3 0-0 8, Pamplin 2 0-0 4. Totals 15 8-13 43.

GRACE (67) — Salima 0 0-0 0, Osborne 6 2-2 17, Shamburger 3 0-0 6, Wood 0 2-2 2, McGovern 3 0-0 7, Nieder 8 0-0 17, Nieder 0 0-0 0, Sheldon 0 0-0 0, Karlberg 5 1-1 11, Sheldon 3 1-1 7. Totals 28 6-6 67.

3-point goals — Nikiski 5 (Tauriainen 2, Carstens 2, L. Johnson 1); Grace 5 (Osborne 3, McGovern 1, Nieder 1).

Team fouls — Nikiski 12; Grace 12. Fouled out — none.

Lions 76, Seahawks 46

Seward 13 9 16 8 —46

ACS 17 22 17 20 —76

SEWARD (46) — Berry 0 0-0 0, Hauze 0 0-0 0, Estes 0 0-0 0, Zweifel 0 3-4 3, Kratz 2 0-0 4, Brewi 3 0-0 7, Jacobson 0 0-0 0, Seiverts 4 0-0 8, Pahno 3 0-0 6, Nillson 0 0-0 0, Jackson 6 0-0 16, Petrosius 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 3-4 46.

ACS (76) — Gatkouth 3 0-0 8, Huckabay 5 2-3 15, Cha 0 0-0 0, Cho 0 0-0 0, Bronson 4 0-2 8, Guzman 7 0-1 15, Dickerson 2 0-0 5, Onochie 3 0-0 6, Lozano 5 0-0 15, Makoi 2 0-0 4. Totals 31 2-6 76.

3-point goals — Seward 5 (Jackson 4, Brewi 1); ACS 12 (Lozano 5, Huckabay 3, Gatkouth 2, Guzman 1, Dickerson 1).

Team fouls — Seward 10; ACS 9. Fouled out — none.

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