The Mariners had a weekend, after battling through nail-biting basketball games against Klawock boys and Nikiski girls and sweeping the Winter Carnival Tournament.
The home tournament attracted teams from as far away as Southeast and Fairbanks and pitted five competitors against each other in three days of round-robin play.
The Lady Mariners took on the Monroe Rams of Fairbanks on Thursday. The game had a fast start for the Mariners. Madison Akers contributed nine of the Mariners 17 points in the first quarter. The Rams trailed by 10 going into the second quarter, but picked up a few points as the Mariners struggled to put their defensive talents to work. After a regrouping timeout, with four minutes remaining in the first half, the Lady Mariners’ relentless defense clicked into gear. The rest of the game saw full court pressure, tight defensive rebounds and big scoring moments from the Mariners, who finished with a 44-24 win over the Rams.
Thursday brought much tougher competition for the Mariner boys, who faced off against the Klawock Chieftains, reigning 2013 and 2014 1A state champions. The Chieftains’ sharp outside shooting and quick moves under the basket caught the Mariners off guard in the first quarter, leaving them down eight points at the first buzzer.
The Mariners’ momentum shift came two minutes into the second quarter when seniors Jaruby Nelson and Kenneth Schneider shot back-to-back three-point shots, pulling the Mariners within six points of the Chieftains. Schneider landed another three-point shot at the buzzer, sending the Mariners into halftime 28-29.
The score and both teams’ offensive play stayed tight throughout the third quarter, as the inside baskets of Mariner Sheldon Hutt were matched by the outside shots of Klawock’s Josh Marvin. The Mariners went into the fourth quarter down 41-45, but with the help of Schneider’s quick hands intercepting passes, Hutt’s practiced free throw shots and senior Filip Reutov’s skillful assists, they pulled ahead 53-48 with 3:30 left to play.
In the remaining minutes of the game, the Chieftains fought to regain the lead, bringing the score within one point. With seconds left, the ball switched possession from Klawock to Homer and back in a tense finish. Homer managed to regain possession for the final 12 seconds of the game, the buzzer announcing a 53-52 victory for Homer.
Mariner Head Coach Nate Creel saw Thursday’s win as a mental milestone for his team, which has struggled this season to maintain its composure under pressure.
“They didn’t force anything, which is big for us. Tonight they kept their cool and stayed patient,” said Creel.
Friday brought a similarly exciting match for the Lady Mariners in a conference game against the Nikiski Bulldogs. The first half started off slow, as the Mariners had a hard time landing baskets, leaving them down five after the second quarter. Their halftime chat brought renewed energy, however, as tough defensive action and shots from senior Larson Fellows and junior Aurora Waclawski brought the Mariners into the lead within the first three minutes of the period. The teams traded baskets, including three-point shots from Waclawski and Nikiski’s Alison Litke, for the remainder of the period, leaving the Mariners down one heading into the final quarter.
The Bulldogs got the first shot pulling into the fourth, followed closely by a game-tying three-pointer from Mariner junior Kayla Stafford. Nikiski’s Rachel Thompson scored again, pulling the Bulldogs ahead by two. With two minutes left in the game, Madison Akers landed a three-point shot to give the Mariners a narrow one-point lead.
The last minute of the game brought an onslaught of fouls from the Bulldogs attempting to regain possession. The tactic fell flat, however, when Waclawski sunk both free throws to pull the Mariners ahead by three with 12 seconds left on the clock. An accidental push of the buzzer, six seconds premature, allowed the Mariners to celebrate their 37-34 victory over the Bulldogs twice.
Head Coach Chad Felice, who launched off the floor in jubilation over Friday’s win, feels his team was able to perform well under pressure because he encourages them to take risks on the court, building confidence in their own judgment.
“I tell the girls to play the game you love and have fun,” he said.
The Mariner boys came out with force during Friday night’s face-off with the Bulldogs, leading 24-8 at the first buzzer, and 36-24 at halftime. Nikiski responded in the third period, fighting back with rebounding and outside shots, bringing the score within one point. During the fourth quarter, the Mariners regained their momentum with break-away layups from Schneider, who contributed a total 24 points on Friday night, and fast motion from Nelson, who scored 19 points. The Mariners ended the night with a 68-52 win.
Both Mariner teams played Cook Inlet Academy on Saturday. The girls ended their weekend in a 44-32 victory over the Eagles and the boys logged a 59-45 finish.
Homer received more honors on Saturday, when Madison Akers and Sheldon Hutt were named all-tournament MVPs. Kayla Stafford and Kenneth Schneider were selected by coaches other than their own as members of the all-tournament team.
The Mariners face off against Seward at home Saturday in conference games that will help decide the close seeding at Regions. The girls play at 1:45 p.m. and the boys tip off at 3:30 p.m.
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.