Kenai Central’s Wade James tries to steal the ball from Nikiski’s Braeden Porter on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Wade James tries to steal the ball from Nikiski’s Braeden Porter on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

‘Zach’s Fight Fundraiser’ packs gym as Nikiski, Kenai split

The community packed the Kenai Central gym Tuesday night for “Zach’s Fight Fundraiser” and to watch the Kenai and Nikiski varsity basketball teams split Class 3A Peninsula Conference games.

Zach Armstrong, a sophomore who plays for Kenai, was diagnosed with leukemia in November. There were a number of ways to donate money to the Armstrong family at the Tuesday game, and Desi Baker has set up a fundraiser under “Zach’s Fight” at gofundme.com.

“I think my favorite part — and it’s hard to single out because all of it is great — but my favorite part is just seeing the support from other schools,” Kenai Central girls coach Jeff Swick said. “That’s really cool. Because at the end of the day, basketball is great, but community is more important.

“Just to see everybody come together is pretty awesome and it makes you feel good. I hope the family got a little pick-me-up because I know things are tough. It’s just an awesome event.”

Nikiski girls coach Rustin Hitchcock echoed those sentiments.

“I saw six different schools represented,” Hitchcock said. “It really shows that this community can come together, that this peninsula can come together.

“So it’s really cool and I hope everything goes well.”

Nikiski won the girls game 26-17 while the Kardinals came back for an 82-50 victory in the boys contest.

The Bulldogs girls are 1-2 in the league and 5-8 overall, while the Kenai girls are 2-1 in the league and 11-4 overall.

Kenai’s Emma Beck, the Kardinals leading scorer and a dominant inside presence, missed the game because she is playing volleyball for Team Alaska at the Arctic Winter Games in Wood Buffalo, Northern Alberta, Canada.

“You can only play who is in front of you, but I do feel for their team,” Hitchcock said. “They had a game without her, then a day off, then a practice. And then, here’s a region game.

“That’s a tough situation. But they fought and they played really well. It was a tight game throughout.”

Nikiski led 6-2 after a quarter, Kenai led 7-6 at the half, then Nikiski led 15-11 after three quarters.

With Beck gone, Hitchcock and Swick knew it would be a defensive battle.

“We were joking, and he kind of predicted 10-7 for a final score,” Swick said of Hitchcock. “There was a moment when it was 7-7. I was sitting there thinking, ‘Man, I hope we have 10.’”

Hitchcock said a team effort on defense and offense made the victory possible.

In the second half, Maggie Grenier got Nikiski some crucial points on drives where she scored or dished for easy baskets. Grenier finished with six points.

“Maggie Grenier had good composure running the point,” Hitchcock said. “I think she was a little skittish in the first half. In the second half, she said, ‘Oh wait, I can do this.’

“Some of her drives there at the end were just perfectly timed.”

Hitchcock also said Avery White, who had three points, anchored the team by communicating well on offense and defense.

Also for Nikiski, Shelby Burman had seven, Ashlynne Playle had four, and Savanna Stock, Avery Ellis and Emma Weeks had two.

Swick said his team played well on defense and passed the ball around well on offense.

“We just couldn’t get the shots to drop,” he said. “There was kind of a lid on the hoop today. I pleaded with the refs to fix it, but they wouldn’t.”

In addition to missing Beck, the Kardinals also are missing post player Mycka Phillips due to a vacation. So Swick said the team was going to have to hit outside shots to win. Swick said Ellsi Miller did come up from junior varsity and was solid in scoring two points.

“I told them when we first found out that Emma is leaving, ‘This is good,’” Swick said. “Even if you lose the games, there’s good to take from it.

“We’re going to get all those girls more experience and hopefully more confidence. And when Emma comes back, there will be that much more confidence behind her. I just feel like it makes us a better team as a whole.”

Chloe Goldsby and Rylie Sparks paced the Kardinals with five, while Malerie Nunn had four and Ella Yragui had one.

The Kenai boys moved to 3-0 in the league and 9-6 overall, while Nikiski fell to 0-3 and 2-13. The Kardinals led 17-10 after the first quarter, and had opened up a 42-17 lead by halftime.

Jakob Kvasnikoff poured in 29 points for the Kardinals, connecting on five 3-pointers in the process. Wade James added 24, while Daniel McRorie had 10, Carnell Gump had eight, Luke Armstrong had five, and Davion Swain and Owen Whicker each had three.

For Nikiski, Charlie Chamberlain had 19, Seth Payne had 10, Braeden Porter had nine, David Weathers had eight and Drew Handley had four.

Grace Christian girls 48, Homer 16

The visiting Grizzlies picked up a Class 3A Peninsula Conference victory Tuesday against the Mariners. Homer is 0-3 in the league and 2-9 overall.

Lawson Alexson paced the Mariners with nine points, while Minadora Reutov had three and Channing Lowney had two.

For the Grizzlies, MJ Van Der Horst had 15, Ella Boerger had 13, Sophie Lentfer had 10, Molly Schild had five, Poppy Wiggers had three and Olivia Jones had two.

Grace Christian boys 53, Homer 33

The visiting Grizzlies notched a Class 3A Peninsula Conference victory Tuesday against the Mariners to drop Homer to 1-2 in the league and 1-11 overall.

For Homer, Theo McDonough had 10, Frent Fell had eight, Morgan Techie had four, Mylan Johnson, Einar Pederson and Niko Sulcyznski had three, and Henry Wedvick had two.

Sloan Lentfer pumped in 21 for Homer, while Luke Lentfer, Keller Jedlicka and Tyler Binder had eight, Joshua Ivanoff and Braeden Boerger had three, and Hunter Finch had two.

Kenai Central senior Owen Whicker holds up Zach Armstrong’s jersey as Zach’s brother, Luke, runs out during pregame introductions. Zach was diagnosed with leukemia in November. The Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, game against Nikiski at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, was a fundraiser for the Armstrong family. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central senior Owen Whicker holds up Zach Armstrong’s jersey as Zach’s brother, Luke, runs out during pregame introductions. Zach was diagnosed with leukemia in November. The Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, game against Nikiski at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, was a fundraiser for the Armstrong family. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai players warm up at the girls halftime wearing T-shirts referencing teammate Zach Armstrong, a sophomore on the team. Armstrong was diagnosed with leukemia in November and the Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, game against Nikiski at Kenai Central High School was a fundraiser for the Armstrong family. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai players warm up at the girls halftime wearing T-shirts referencing teammate Zach Armstrong, a sophomore on the team. Armstrong was diagnosed with leukemia in November and the Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, game against Nikiski at Kenai Central High School was a fundraiser for the Armstrong family. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Emilee Wilson and Nikiski’s Shelby Burman battle for the ball Tuesday, jan. 31, 2023, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Emilee Wilson and Nikiski’s Shelby Burman battle for the ball Tuesday, jan. 31, 2023, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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