The Grace Christian girls and boys basketball teams claimed Peninsula Conference titles last Friday at Kenai Central High School.
Both Grizzlies squads came into the tournament as the top seeds after going 8-0 in regular season league play. The Grace girls defeated Kenai 46-33, while the Grace boys topped the Kardinals 65-26.
The Grace girls and boys both punched their tickets to the Class 3A state tournament from March 23 to 26 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
Saturday, the Kenai girls and Homer boys claimed second place to also earn a spot at state. The Kardinals girls topped Homer 38-27, while the Mariners boys defeated Kenai 62-39.
On the girls side Friday, Seward advanced to the second-place semifinal by defeating Nikiski 33-26. Homer then advanced to play Kenai by topping Seward 36-31.
On the boys side Friday, Homer started the day by knocking off Nikiski, 64-56. The Mariners then defeated Seward 54-38 to advance to the second-place game.
Grace Christian girls 46, Kenai 33
The Grizzlies used a spurt at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half to take control of the championship game.
Grace led 14-13 with 2 minutes left in the first half, but ended the half on a 7-0 run and started the second half on a 3-0 run.
Ella Boerger hurt the Kardinals from the perimeter all game, hitting four 3-pointers on the way to 20 points. Sophie Lentfer scored 10 of her 18 points in the final quarter for Grace. Kai WayThomas added seven, while Reagan Lash had one.
Emma Beck, the conference MVP, gave Grace fits from the low block, finishing with 20 points. Also for Kenai, Malerie Nunn had four, Logan Satathite and Amber Nash had three, Rylie Sparks had two and Erin Koziczkowski had one.
Grace Christian boys 65, Kenai 26
The Grizzlies came out hot from the perimeter, hitting five 3-pointers in the first quarter to take a 19-6 lead and control of the game.
Tyler Binder had four 3-pointers in the first quarter on the way to 21 points, while Sloan Lentfer had 14 and Luke Lentfer, the conference MVP, and Caden Nanninga each added 11. Also for Grace, Kellen Jedlicka had five and Hunter Finch had three.
For Kenai, Jakob Kvasnikoff had eight, Bridger Beck had five, Wade James and Caleb Litke had four apiece, Ky Calvert had two and Eli McCubbins, Roc Riggle and Armands Veksejs all had one.
Kenai girls 38, Homer 27
The two teams came into this pivotal game 1-1 against each other, but Kenai got the deciding game to improve to 16-9 and go to state for the third time in four years. The Mariners finished 11-12 and missed out on a second straight state berth.
In the three games against Homer, riding the consistent Emma Beck on offense, the Kardinals scored 40, 43 and then 38 points. The big variable is Homer’s offense. The Mariners had 61 points to beat Kenai, and 34 and 27 points in the losses.
“They do play a good pressure, half-court defense,” Homer head coach Chad Felice said of the Kards. “When you get open looks, you’ve got to knock them down.
“If you don’t, it’s going to be hard to overcome what they do on offense. They get the ball down to Beck. Then, if she’s doubled or even tripled, she’s pretty good at kicking the ball out.”
Homer led 8-5 after the first quarter, holding Beck to three points. Beck had to leave the floor late in the quarter due to blood on her uniform.
In the second quarter, Beck went for eight points as the Kardinals took a 14-10 lead to the locker room.
“Maybe that helped, her coming out to reset, because they were throwing a lot at her,” Kenai head coach Jeff Swick said. “You could tell it was maybe getting to her a little bit.
“Maybe that quick reset for blood on the jersey helped. It was a better timeout than I ever could have called.”
Kenai’s defense, led by Malerie Nunn’s pressure up top, also held Homer to just two points in the second quarter.
“No. 1 on the on whiteboard was defensive intensity, for four quarters,” Swick said. “We’ve had that in spurts, especially at this tournament, but not quite the whole game. So our focus was making it a complete game of defensive intensity.”
Although Beck has been a dominant presence since joining the team last season as a freshman, Swick has always said the whole team needs to step up for the Kards to be successful.
That was true in the second half as Beck battled foul trouble. When Beck sat out the end of the third quarter, Homer went on a 5-0 run to cut the gap to 24-19 headed to the fourth.
In the fourth, Beck had a layup and free throw to put Kenai up 27-19 with 5:50 to play, but foul trouble meant she wouldn’t score the rest of the game. Kenai would still outscore Homer 11-8, with Amber Nash going for six points.
“That’s what we’ve been working on all year, because she is our main scorer, and everyone knows it,” Swick said. “We’ve got to have someone else step up, because we can’t just leave it all on her all of the time.”
Felice gave the Kards credit for stepping up as a team offensively and defensively in the final quarter.
“It was late in the game, and we needed to get any points that we could get, so we were pressing for anything, and it just didn’t fall,” he said.
Beck led Kenai with 18, while Nash had eight, Logan Satathite had six, and Nunn and Denali Bernard each had three.
For Homer, Sydney Shelby had nine, Kaylin Anderson had five, Sophie Ellison had four, Mel Morris had three, and Delilah Harris, Bethany Engebretsen and Olivia Glasman each had two.
Glasman, Ellison, Harris, Anderson and Morris played their last games as seniors.
“They have those five seniors that battle so hard,” Swick said. “I told Chad at the end I didn’t feel comfortable until there was about 2 seconds left.”
Homer boys 62, Kenai 39
The Mariners won the second-place game Saturday to earn their first berth to state since 2000.
Homer, now 14-11 overall, lost 54-46 on Thursday in the tournament opener to Kenai, but came back to win three straight and take the state berth. The Mariners ended up 3-1 this season against the Kardinals, who finish 7-18.
“We had some ups and downs throughout the year with some tough losses, and it just felt like the last few weeks, it was kind of a struggle to get our confidence back,” Homer head coach Weston Carroll said. “The last couple of days, they pulled together and proved they wanted it.
“As a coach, you can say things, but it’s up to them to do it. It was rewarding as a coach to finally have them pull together and play the game they played.”
In Thursday’s loss, Kenai’s halfcourt trap gave Homer fits. After taking a 12-7 lead after Saturday’s first quarter, the Mariners erupted for 30 points in the second quarter to take a decisive 42-16 lead to the locker room.
Carroll said the Mariners had practiced attacking the trap a lot in practice coming into the tournament.
“Thursday, we moved the ball around, but we just didn’t have the confidence to finish the shot, where today I felt we did,” Carroll said. “We didn’t really make any changes or adjustments.”
Kenai head coach Nolan Rose agreed with Carroll. Rose said the defensive plan was to limit Carter Tennison and take away the 3-pointers of Peyton Edens. The Kenai coach said two 3-pointers by Noah Irons and another trey by Lance Seneff in the first half made a big difference.
“The other guys stepped up and hit shots,” Rose said. “And once they did, they kind of got the momentum going and we don’t always handle adversity well.”
Homer was playing a three-quarters court trap with Edens at the point of the pressure. The defense caused more and more turnovers as the second quarter went on, leading to easy buckets.
Rose said he had seen the Mariners use the defense against Seward and Kenai prepared for it during a shoot-around early Saturday.
“We just didn’t execute it in the game,” Rose said. “That was a good move on their part to do that.”
Carroll said the Mariners played the three-quarters court trap briefly in the loss to Kenai on Thursday, but couldn’t stay in it because of some substitutions Homer had to make.
“So maybe it was good,” the Homer coach said. “I’m sure Nolan would have made adjustments if he had to deal with it Thursday as much as he did today.”
Kenai actually won the second half 23-20.
“I thought we showed good character,” Rose said. “We competed until the end, even though, realistically, when you’re down 26 at the half, your odds of winning the game are really low.”
Tennison had 18 points for Homer, while Edens had 11, Irons had eight, Morgan Teche had seven, Seneff had three, Braden Huffman and Nathan Overson had two, and Lucas Story had one.
For Kenai, Jakob Kvasnikoff had 12, Eli McCubbins had 11, Ky Calvert had six, Bridger Beck had five, Wade James had three and Joe Hamilton had two.
The Kards lose seniors Joe Hamilton, Hayden Hanson, Sam Baisden, McCubbins and junior foreign exchange student Armands Veksejs.
“I’m so thankful for them,” Rose said. “It’s obviously my first year here, and the whole coaching staff was turned over, so it was a learning curve for everybody.”
Homer girls 36, Seward 31
Friday, the Mariners stopped a four-game losing streak against the Seahawks just in time to move to the second-place game. Seward ended its season at 10-13.
The game was tied at 3 after the first quarter, while Seward took a 10-9 lead into halftime. Homer’s pivotal run in the game came in the third quarter, allowing the Mariners to take a 20-12 lead into the fourth quarter.
Delilah Harris had 12 for the Mariners, while Kaylin Anderson had eight, Sydney Shelby had seven, Hannah Stonorov had three, and Bethany Engebretsen, Mel Morris and Sophie Ellison had two apiece.
For Seward, Shelby Sieminski poured in 18, while Lena Jagielski had five, Robin Cronin had three, Wren Dougherty had two, and Hailey Ingalls, Hannah Schilling and Taylor Huett each had one.
Homer boys 54, Seward 38
The Mariners defeated the Seahawks in the second-place semifinal Friday. Seward finished its season at 6-17.
Homer jumped out to a 14-5 lead after a quarter, then led 31-18 at the half and 42-26 after three quarters.
Carter Tennison was unstoppable throughout with 38 points. Peyton Edens added nine points, while Braden Huffman had seven.
For Seward, Ozzy Deel had 11, Tommy Cronin had 10, Bergen Davis had eight, Ben Ambrosiani had five, and Nick Ambrosiani and Kupono Albino each had two.
Seward girls 33, Nikiski 26
The Seahawks advanced to the second-place semifinal early Friday by toppling Nikiski. The Bulldogs ended their season at 1-24.
Seward led 8-4 after the first quarter, 17-10 at the half and 21-13 after three quarters.
Lena Jagielski paced the Seahawks with 12 points, while Hannah Schilling and Shelby Sieminski had eight, Wren Dougherty and Robin Cronin had two, and Renee Elhard had one.
For Nikiski, Kinlee Jeffreys had eight, Rylee Ellis and Emma Weeks had four, Kaydence Jeffreys and Shelby Burman had three, and Avery White and Ashlynne Playle each had two.
Homer boys 64, Nikiski 56
The Mariners stayed alive in the second-place bracket Friday by topping the Bulldogs. Nikiski ended its season at 7-19 overall.
Nikiski grabbed a 15-9 lead after the first quarter, but Homer had a 26-23 lead by halftime. The Mariners then took a 50-35 lead after three quarters.
Carter Tennison paced Homer with 20 points, while Peyton Edens had 14, Ryan Carroll and Lucas Story had nine, and Noah Irons and Braden Huffman had six.
For Nikiski, Brady Bostic had 20, Drew Handley had 16, Charlie Chamberlain had 13, Braeden Porter had three, and Isaiah Daniels and Dillon Hanson each had two.
Peninsula Conference awards
Most Valuable Player — Emma Beck, Kenai.
Coach of the year — Pete Johnson, Grace.
First team all-conference — Lena Jagielski, Seward; Rylee Ellis, Nikiski; Mel Morris, Homer; Logan Satathite, Kenai; Shelby Sieminski, Seward; Ella Boerger, Grace; Sophie Lentfer, Grace.
Second team — Malerie Nunn, Kenai; Kinlee Jeffreys, Nikiski; Kaylin Anderson, Homer; Delilah Harris, Homer; Kai WayThomas, Grace.
Most Valuable Player — Luke Lentfer, Grace.
Coach of the Year — Jason Boerger, Grace.
First team — Wade James, Kenai; Brady Bostic, Nikiski; Caden Nanninga, Grace; Jacob Kvasnikoff, Kenai; Sloan Lentfer, Grace; Carter Tennison, Homer; Tommy Cronin, Seward.
Second team — Ryan Carroll, Homer; Peyton Edens, Homer; Drew Handley, Nikiski; Simon Grenier, Nikiski; Kellen Jedlicka, Grace; Tyler Binder, Grace; Bridger Beck, Kenai.
Team champion — Kenai Central.
Coach of the Year — Brianna Force.
All-Conference — Chloe Lastimosa, Seward; Broolyn Reed, Kenai; Allie High, Homer; Delaney Duck, Kenai; Karah Huff, Kenai; Cali Holmes, Kenai.