The Colony Knights started fast and finished slow and the West Eagles started slow and finished strong to grab victories Thursday at the Class 4A state girls basketball tournament. Now they'll face each other in a Friday semifinal game at Sullivan Arena.
The Knights held East scoreless in the first quarter to race to an early lead and then held the ball in the final minutes to hold off the surging Thunderbirds 42-39. And West overcame an early deficit to beat Soldotna 58-55 in overtime, winning on sophomore Fu'a Malaetia's 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds left.
The other semifinal will feature top-seeded Kodiak, which warded off eighth-seeded Dimond 54-40, against West Valley, a 43-37 winner over Ketchikan.
Malaetia was the hero for West, taking a pass from heavily defended Chanel Bookert and hitting nothing but net to break a 55-55 tie and avoid a second overtime.
That wasn't the play set up during a timeout with 45 seconds left -- the plan was for Bookert, the Class 4A Player of the Year, to take the final shot. But Soldotna swarmed all over Bookert, who found Malaetia alone outside the 3-point arc.
"I was planning on having Chanel pass me the ball," Malaetia said. "It was the second time that happened. The first time I was open but I passed it up."
Colony didn't need any last-second heroics to beat East. The Knights mostly had to survive the final seconds to hold off the T-birds, who were doomed by their early scoring drought.
"We dug ourselves a deep hole," East coach Rick Henderson said. "We didn't expect to not score a point in the first quarter."
The game was more than 10 minutes old before East, trailing 15-0, finally scored a point.
"I looked up at the scoreboard and I saw zero, and I thought, have they really not scored yet?" Colony junior Faith Farris said.
The Knights smothered East en route to a 13-0 first-quarter lead. They owned a 9-5 rebounding edge and disrupted the T-bird offense with seven steals, three of them by Jennifer Solano.
Farris opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer to build Colony's lead to 15-0, and it appeared the rout was on.
But Colony coach Jeff Bowker knew better as his team headed into the locker room with a 19-8 halftime lead.
"We talked about it at halftime -- we had an 11-point lead, but we saw East come back from 15 last week or the week before," Bowker said. "We said, 'We've gotta play this game like it's 0-0.' "
East's Taria Page took over the third quarter, scoring 13 points to trim Colony's lead to 32-25. In the final 40 seconds, the 6-foot junior scored five points, the final two coming despite being double-teamed by Colony's defense.
A putback by Page kept it a single-digit difference, 38-29, midway through the fourth quarter. Vaa Pedro missed a pair of free throws for East at the 3:14 mark, and the teams traded two quick turnovers right after that.
Then more than two minutes passed before East touched the ball again -- Colony went to a spread offense to run valuable time off the clock.
"At the end we decided to slow things down," Bowker said.
Nearly 90 seconds passed before Page finally fouled someone to stop Colony's game of catch.
"Which is an eternity," Bowker said. "An eternity."
Colony missed the free throw, East got the rebound and Page scored. Another foul and another missed free throw led to Dajah Motuga's 15-foot jumpshot for East that made it 38-33.
Two more fouls and two Colony free throws later, Page drained a 3-point to make it 40-36 with 20 seconds left.
But the T-birds had to keep fouling, and Farris hit a pair of foul shots with 13 seconds left for a six-point Colony lead, leaving East with too much ground to make up and too little time.
Pedro's layup with three seconds left made it a three-point game, but Colony safely in-bounded the ball and ran out the clock.
"Coming back took a lot out of us," Henderson said.
Even though his team falls into the consolation bracket, Henderson called Thursday's game a turning point for the T-birds.
They will lose three key players to graduation, including Pedro (6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) and Motuga, but they get another year with Page, a gifted athlete who seldom appears rattled. Also returning are five freshmen and sophomores and three other juniors.
"We'll be back, bigger and better," Henderson said.
A bigger, better Page is a scary thought. She didn't miss a shot against Colony while piling up a game-high 23 points -- she hit all nine of her field goal attempts, including three from 3-point range, and sank both of her free throws.
Colony had a more balanced offense that was led by 14 points from Farris and nine from Sarah Bonn, who provided a huge boost off the bench. She scored seven points and played tough defense in the first quarter, providing an instant spark.
"I told Sarah, 'You were the trigger tonight,' " Bowker said. "She plays her role. She knows she'll get her minutes."
Bowker said the Knights are a team of players who understand their roles, which may explain why the Knights didn't panic when East -- the bigger, more physical team -- roared back.
"We don't have the biggest team," Farris said, "but we visualize ourselves as being big players."
West Valley 43, Ketchikan 37
Ruthy Hebard, West Valley's 6-foot-3 sophomore, made her presence known Thursday.
Hebard simply dominated a 43-37 win over Ketchikan, racking up 16 points and 17 rebounds while rejecting nine shots.
Illeana Casiano added 12 points and Carlee Marques distributed seven assists for West Valley.
Ketchikan's Jayley Taylor delievered 13 points and seven rebounds.
West 58, Soldotna 55
West coach Charlie Engel didn't plan for Fu'a Malaetia to take the shot at the end of overtime, but when he saw she had the ball in her hands with time running out, he felt good about it.
"The little girl who hit it? She's allowed to shoot that shot anytime," Engel said.
Malaetia, who is listed at 5-foot-5, hit the game-winner with 4.5 seconds left. It was her only field goal of the game.
The plan was for Chanel Bookert to take the final shot after Soldotna tied the game with 45 seconds left on Kelcie Benson's second huge 3-pointer of the game. Benson also drained a 3-pointer to tie the game 50-50 in regulation. West had time for a final shot, but Theyoung Puoy missed an open perimeter shot.
In overtime, West went up 54-50 but coudn't keep the lead. After a timeout following Benson's tying basket, Soldotna swarmed Bookert, who never got an open look. But she spotted an open Malaetia and got the ball to her.
"They were chasing Chanel all over," Engel said of the Stars. "They were not going to let Chanel shoot the last shot."
Bookert finished with 15 points. Marshala Eady pumped in 17 on 7 of 9 shooting and added five assists and three steals, CeCe Cockerham scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds and Puoy finished with 12 points and three blocks.
Julie Litchfield's 18 points led Soldotna. Lindsey Wong added 14 points, Benson finished with 11 points and four assists, and Katelynn Kerkvliet helped the Stars to a 28-26 rebounding edge by collecting nine rebounds.
Kodiak 54, Dimond 40
Kodiak scored 10 unanswered points near the end of the game to cement a 54-40 triumph over Dimond.
The Lynx, the No. 8 seed who earned the final at-large berth in the tournament, proved a worthy opponent for top-seeded Kodiak.
They cut Kodiak's lead to six points midway through the fourth quarter and were down by seven, 44-37, after Dejha Canty drove for a bucket with 3:10 left.
Kodiak reeled off 10 straight points after that, a run sparked by defense. Three times after Kodiak baskets, the Bears disrupted Dimond in-bound plays to force turnovers before Dimond could get the ball to midcourt.
Megan Pyles, a 5-foot-10 forward, racked up 25 points and 12 rebounds for Kodiak to make up for foul trou ble that kept 6-foot-1 center Hannah Wandersee on the bench for half the game.
Jerica Nelson pestered Dimond defensively and ran the show offensively for Kodiak with five points, four assists and three steals. Adriane Horn had six of Kodiak's 14 steals and Wandersee chipped in nine points.
Canty, who was on fire in the fourth quarter to help keep Dimond in the game, finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Tara Thompson struggled with her shot but finished with 10 points to go with three assists and two steals, and Rohyn Huss provided seven points and eight rebounds for the Lynx.
By BETH BRAGG