The Mariners swept Nikiski last Saturday afternoon with two tightly executed games, spreading rumblings of their strength this season farther up the peninsula. The two wins bumped the Mariners’ in-conference season records to 2-1 for the boys (2-4 overall) and 3-0 for the girls (5-2 overall).
Saturday’s competition was the first time this season the Lady Mariners tipped off with all five starting players on the floor. Having a full team, reunited and healthy, was huge for the Mariners’ success, said Head Coach Chad Felice. Senior starter Larson Fellows scored six points alone in the first quarter, with juniors Aurora Waclawski and Kayla Stafford contributing to the team’s impressive 13-2 lead by the first buzzer.
“That first quarter was the best quarter we’ve played all year,” said Felice.
In the second quarter of the game, Homer fiddled with unproductive substitutions while Nikiski responded to the Mariners’ fast-paced and high-scoring start. The Bulldogs put 10 points on the board in the second quarter against Homer’s two, sending the Mariners into halftime up only three points.
In the third quarter the Mariners’ biggest challenge was defending the Bulldog’s strongest player, senior guard Rachel Thompson.
“In my opinion they have one of the best guards on the peninsula,” said Felice in regards to Thompson.
Felice was impressed with how effectively the Mariners’ help-side defense clamped down on the Bulldogs, allowing Homer to snatch up key rebounds as Nikiski fought to stay in the game. Both Waclawski and sophomore Sofia Clark were integral in stopping Thompson before she could even get started, Felice said.
Homer held a tenuous six-point lead moving into the final quarter, but the Bulldog’s high-scoring junior, Alison Litke, cut down the Mariners’ margin in the opening minute of the quarter, aided by two free throw shots from Thompson. Suddenly, Homer’s lead had shrunk within two points.
It was the unexpected, stand-out performance of sophomore Miriah Hendrickson that brought the game solidly back into Homer’s possession. With four minutes on the clock she landed her only shots of the game and upped Homer’s score five crucial points to bring the Mariners back to a safe 33-24 lead for the last 1:31 of play.
Felice was impressed with Hendrickson’s poise under pressure.
“She’s so young, she doesn’t realize how big the moments are. She is able to just take those shots and not get worked up about it,” he said.
The Lady Mariners ended the game 36-28.
It was smooth passing, skillful ball handling and a stellar performance from senior Sheldon Hutt that landed the Mariners boys their win on Saturday.
Nikiski came out strong, making two three-point shots in the first few minutes of the game to leave the Mariners down three at the quarter break. However, early in the second quarter the tide began to turn when Hutt scored three baskets in a row. Aided by a three-point shot from senior Filip Reutov, Homer took the lead with just over four minutes left to play in the first half, and held it strongly in their possession for the rest of the game.
In the third quarter, Hutt put away eight of the Mariners’ 14 points, leaving the Bulldogs to scramble unsuccessfully to make up Homer’s 10-point lead.
After giving up crucial points to missed free throws in their home game against Kenai over winter break, the Mariners had clearly been practicing in the intervening week, as their free throw shots continued to fall on Saturday. In the fourth quarter, senior Jaruby Nelson made five out of six shots from the line, bringing his personal total up to 14 points for the night.
Hutt, with his imposing 6-foot-7-inch stature, undoubtedly found his groove on Saturday, contributing a total of 25 points to Homer’s 54-43 victory over the Bulldogs. More impressive than Hutt’s height, however, was the way the Mariners showcased their ability to move the ball and execute their offense as a cohesive unit, a tactic they’ve stumbled to employ smoothly earlier this season.
Notable assists to Hutt’s numerous baskets came from the quick thinking and calm handling of Nelson and fellow senior Kenneth Schneider. Seniors Drew Brown and Filip Reutov also played a key role
in moving the ball to the basket. The Mariners’ newfound ease in collaborative team offense bodes well for their chances this season.
Both Mariner teams faced off against SoHi in non-conference home games Tuesday, with the Stars taking home wins over the girls, 35-24, and the boys, 53-46.
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer. Peninsula Clarion reporter Joey Klecka also contributed reporting to this article.