Mariners sink to Kenai in first at-home games

The large crowd gathered in the Homer High School gym on Dec. 30was loud with school spirit and holiday cheer as they watched the Mariners face off against Kenai in the first home basketball games of the season. Both teams fought hard against the Kardinals, but despite the encouragement, failed to close out 2014 with a win. 

It was the second time the Lady Mariners had played against the Kardinals, previously defeating the team 44-39 during the Kenai River Challenge Tournament on Dec. 19. This time, the Mariners came out strong against the Kardinals, but struggled to land as many baskets. 

“I think we had the first-home-game jitters,” said Lady Mariners Head Coach Chad Felice.

“We missed a lot of easy buckets early, and they made a lot of shots.”

The game got off to a quick start with both teams scoring early on. Thirty seconds before the end of the first quarter, junior high-scorer Madison Akers landed a 3-point shot bringing the Mariners within one point of the Kardinals. In the second quarter, the Mariners’ game became a little looser, with several errors resulting in turnovers to Kenai. The Lady Mariners fought to keep the margin small, but the Kardinals continued to find the holes in their defense, sending the Mariners into halftime down five points.

The game remained close coming into the second half. Four minutes into the third quarter, junior Kayla Stafford stole the ball away from the Kardinals to make a full-court breakaway layup. Followed closely by a sharp, inside shot from Akers, the Mariners’ score returned within a one-point margin and it appeared Homer’s momentum was changing. However, the Kardinals were quick on the rebound, and capitalized on several turnovers to increase their lead to seven points by the end of the quarter. In the fourth quarter the Kardinals continued to build on their lead, and the game ended in a 52-28 loss for the Mariners.

The boys game also saw a quick start by Kenai, followed by a third quarter Mariner comeback. The Kardinals racked up a 12-point lead in the first quarter, but Homer responded after the break with aggressive defense. With several steals boosting their confidence, the Mariners began taking more frequent and daring shots in an effort to stay in the game. Senior Jaruby Nelson landed two 3-point shots in the second quarter, and senior Sheldon Hutt used his height to sink two shots from within the key. The Mariners were able to make up some of the Kardinals’ lead, and went into halftime down 32-24.

The buildup of momentum just before half-time carried the Mariners into a strong start to the second half. Two minutes into the third quarter the Kardinals still had not scored when Nelson landed a 3-point shot to bring the Mariners into the lead with a score of 33-32. A minute later, senior Kenneth Schneider landed another 3-pointer, followed closely by an inside score from Hutt, bringing the Mariners’ lead up to 38-34. The two teams traded baskets until the buzzer, ending the third quarter with a tied score of 43-43. 

Tension was high going into the last quarter of the game, resulting in several fouls from both teams. The Mariners struggled to land all of their free throws and regain their rhythm, which let Kenai pull slightly ahead. With just under two minutes left on the clock, the Mariners were down nine points, when both an offensive and a technical foul were called on Schneider, causing him to foul out. The Mariners, though ruffled by losing one of their high-scoring players, continued to fight to the end. With just over one minute left in the game, Nelson landed two free-throw shots followed by another basket to bring the Mariners within six points of the Kardinals. A comeback almost seemed attainable, but in the final seconds of the game, Kenai scored twice to solidify their win. The game ended in a 62-53 loss for the Mariners.

Overall, the boys’ head coach, Nate Creel, was pleased with his team’s effort, saying they came out strong and played hard throughout. 

Jaruby Nelson was the Mariners’ high scorer, with 22 points, followed by Sheldon Hutt with 16 points. Creel indicated he was pleased with both seniors’ performances. 

“Sheldon Hutt was really great at rebounding and taking the ball to the rim,” said Creel.

“Jaruby (Nelson) also came up huge tonight. He hit a few 3-pointers to keep us in the game.” 

In light of missed scoring opportunities, Creel intends to focus practice sessions on free throws and smoothing out the kinks in the Mariners’ offense.

Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.

Up next for Mariner basketball

The Mariners girls and boys varsity basketball teams travel to Nikiski on Saturday for their first games of the New Year.

The girls tip off at 2 p.m., and the boys begin at 3:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, the Mariner boys and girls junior varsity and varsity play SoHi in Homer:

• Girls junior varsity, 3:30 p.m.

• Boys junior varsity, 5 p.m.

• Girls varsity, 6:30 p.m.

• Boys varsity, 8 p.m.