Sure there are big-time basketball games with expensive courtside seats and famous athletes. But there’s nothing like basketball in a small high school gym, with rival teams heating up the floorboards, bleachers shaking with shouting and stomping fans and a narrow lead repeatedly reversed with each basket.
That was the scene in Ninilchik Feb. 19 when the Wolverine boys and girls teams welcomed the Nikolaevsk Warriors.
In the girls’ game, Ninilchik was quick to grab the lead, ending the first quarter 7-4. In the second quarter, the Warriors battled past the Wolverines, reaching halftime with an 18-13 lead. Five points continued to separate the two teams by the end of the third quarter, but Nikolaevsk kept in front of Ninilchik, 26-21.
Then the fun began in earnest. With the clock counting off the seconds, the teams erupted in an explosion of basketball action that had Ninilchik ahead by one point with 25 seconds left in the game, then Nikolaevsk ahead by one point. Coaches used last-minute timeouts to inject strategy in the final moments, but the Warriors kept their one point lead and ended the game 33-32 thanks to a two-pointer sunk by Vera Fefelov at the end of the game.
“The results definitely could have gone either way,” said Nikolaevsk Head Coach Bea Klaich. “Ninilchik girls played a great game. I think my girls kept cool and were able to use their experience to pull off the win.”
For the Ninilchik team, it was an opportunity to measure themselves against a tough competitor.
“I knew it was going to be a game,” said Ninilchik Head Coach Ron Van Saun. “One thing I’ll say about my girls, they’re a true team. They work together, accept coaching, go out and give it every single thing they have, wire to wire. What more can a coach have?”
Pumping up the Wolverine’s side of the score were two three-pointers sunk by Melissa Clark. Olive Delgado’s blocks, rebounds and steals fired up the action and gave Van Saun a glimpse of the freshman’s potential.
“She’s going to be a dominant player,” said Van Saun. “She’s tall, smart and plays hard.”
The boys’ game began with a fierce first quarter that ended with Nikolaevsk leading 14-11. Ninilchik powered it up in the second quarter and the half-tine score was 28-27, Ninilchik’s favor. By the end of the third quarter, the Warriors held a thin one-point lead, 42-41.
The gym rocked during the final period as the Nikolaevsk fans and Ninilchik fans tried to outdo each other with shouts of “Warriors” and “Wolverines,” and the teams kept the ball quickly moving from one end of the court to the other. With nine second left in the game, it was tied 57-57. Then, with only six seconds remaining, the Warriors pulled ahead, ending the game 59-57.
“It was very exciting and intense play,” said Nikolaevsk Head Coach Steve Klaich. “Late turnovers cost us a lead, but the boys kept their composure and hit three late shots for the win. The highlight was Nikit (Fefelov) being on fire from the three-point line and 10-10 at the free throw line.”
Ninilchik Head Coach Nick Finley agreed that it was an exciting game.
“It’s one of those things where the rivalry is there,” said Finley. “I think the (Ninilchik) kids just wanted to prove we could play with Nikolaevsk so they came out hot.”
Two days before the Ninilchik game, the Nikolaevsk teams took on the Kenai “C” teams on the Warriors’ home court, with the Nikolaevsk girls claiming a 53-25 win and the Nikolaevsk boys securing a 74-50 victory.
The day after the Ninilchik game, the Nikolaevsk teams were host to the Seldovia Sea Otters, with the game ending 40-15 in the Nikolaevsk girls’ favor. The boys, however, took a loss with Seldovia winning 71-46.
“The Seldovia team was on fire. (They) hit 13 three-point shots by four different players,” said Head Coach Steve Klaich. “At halftime I told the Nikolaevsk boys that (Seldovia) could not remain that hot and we needed to continue contesting shots. Seldovia proved me wrong.”
Tuesday, Ninilchik played Cook inlet Academy. It also was the last at-home game of the season and an opportunity to honor the seniors on both the girls and boys teams. They play at Birchwood Friday and Lumen Christi on Saturday.
“Main thing is, at this point in time, it’s all practice up until regional tournament,” said Finley.
Keeping up their momentum, Nikolaevsk played the Soldotna “C” team Tuesday. The Nikolaevsk girls won 60-11 their match, but the SoHi boys team won 53-47. The Warriors play Cook Inlet Academy at CIA tonight.
Regions are at Lumen Christi March 4-7. State competition is in Anchorage March 14-18.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.