The Lady Mariners’ end-of-season winning streak stalled out at the state championships in Anchorage last weekend, with losses to Hutchison and ACS bringing the Region III Champions’ eventful season to a close.
“They were crushed,” said the Mariners’ head coach, Chad Felice, of his players after their first loss to Hutchison on Thursday night, which sent Homer into the consolation bracket to fight for fourth place. “But that was from the high expectations we put on ourselves, to win the tournament,” he said.
It was Homer’s first time playing in the state tournament in nine years, and with the novelty of the experience came a fair dose of jitters, said Felice.
“The (Mariners) were amped up, playing with a lot of energy, maybe too much energy,” he said.
Thursday night’s game against the Hutchison Hawks was held in the Sullivan Arena, and the vastness of the venue brought new challenges. Side-by-side to the Mariners’ game another contest was being played simultaneously. In addition to the added commotion, the baskets were suspended from the ceiling far from the walls of the building, altering the athletes’ depth perception on their jump shots.
“We missed a lot of shots that we usually make,” said Felice.
Hutchison’s roster included four seniors who had competed at the state tournament three out of the past four years. The Hawks’ experience adjusting to the new playing environment enabled them to snatch the lead away early in the game, outscoring the Mariners 21-13 in the first quarter. Their lead held steady throughout the second quarter, sending the Mariners into halftime down seven points.
In the third quarter, the Mariners’ jumpiness settled down some, but their shots still refused to fall. Junior Madison Akers, who was later awarded player of the game, led her team to regain their defensive stride in the third quarter, grabbing steals and holding the Hawks to six points in the third period, but the switch came “a little too late,” said Felice.
With two minutes left in the game, Homer trailed by five points. With time dwindling, the Mariners fought for a late-game comeback, but as the Hawks sunk bonus shots at the free throw line, the task became impossible. The night ended in a 36-45 loss for the Mariners.
On Friday afternoon Homer faced off against ACS in a consolation match to qualify them for the fight for fourth place. Little sleep and the residual disappointment from the previous night’s game hung over the Mariners as they took to the court.
“We just came out flat,” said Felice. “ACS put up a couple of quick threes, and we only scored six points in first half. That’s not us,” he said.
Indeed, the situation looked bleak as the Mariners headed into halftime down 22-6. In his halftime talk, Felice appealed to his team’s tried and true late-game energy and challenged the Mariners to leave their all on the floor.
“I told them, we don’t want our season to end at halftime. Let’s show our heart, show our pride, fight back and get back into this game,” Felice said.
The rally cry worked, and the Mariners came out with a fierce energy, emblematic of their play in earlier games this season, snatching rebounds and grabbing steals. Homer outscored the Lions 13-5 in the third quarter, cutting the game within six points.
In the final quarter of the game, however, ACS fed off of the home crowd’s energy, and fought back to hold onto their lead. The Lions put away seven points to the Mariners’ four in the final quarter, sending the Mariners home with their second loss of the weekend, 34-23.
Felice said the Mariners “were definitely disappointed” with how the tournament turned out, but their views remain positive on the season as a whole.
“We can’t take away what they’ve done. It’s outstanding,” he said. “Winning 10 out of our last 12 games. I’m just so proud of them.”
Felice said that he is especially grateful to the two seniors on his team, Larsen Fellows and Shelby Alexander, who set a precedent for great leadership and team play this season, which he hopes will be passed down to the younger players.
“I’ve been saying it all season, but Shelby and Larsen, they’re not the high scorers, they don’t do the flashy things, but they do the little things. They’re great leaders and great kids to be around.”
After Friday’s loss, several players hugged Felice and asked if they could hold practice on Monday.
“It’s been a long season, but they’re sad it’s over,” he said.
He applauded their dedication, but insisted that everyone take a few weeks off before beginning off-season training.
Felice said he was continually impressed this season with the Mariners’ ability to gel together as a team, and believe in him, “a new guy who walked in from New York State.”
He believes their drive and spirit will carry through to next season.
“Even though we didn’t win, I feel that people know Homer basketball is back,” he said.
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.
3/19/15 Hutchison 45, Homer 36
3/20/15 ACS 34, Homer 23