It doesn’t matter what class, division or conference a basketball team plays in — a state championship berth feels just as great.
The Cook Inlet Academy girls earned a spot in the Class 1A State Championship game by defeating Newhalen 44-27 on Tuesday at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage. For CIA, it is their second consecutive state title game, as they nearly won the 2A girls championship last year.
CIA coach Rustin Hitchcock said although the sting from last year’s game is still felt, this year’s squad is a much different animal.
“They always say in sports, even in professional sports, that it’s hard to win three times, and we know that coming from the other side, it’s a new territory for us, it makes us hungrier, and I kind of like it and after last year’s championship game, we know what it’s like,” Hitchcock said. “Last year we were just a whole different team, we focused on post play, and now it’s all a dribble-drive offense and penetration, and the girls have adapted so well.”
Cook Inlet will face Nikolaevsk today at 2 p.m. for the 1A championship, an all-Peninsula matchup. The game is a rematch of the Peninsula Conference championship game on March 1, which Nikolaevsk won 28-27.
“We’re 1-2 against them this year, so we know that they can beat us, but we have some fuel left in us and we’re looking forward to it,” Hitchcock said.
On Tuesday, Cook Inlet proved to be the better team in the second half, hitting 13-of-18 from the free throw line (10-of-13 in the fourth quarter) and scoring 29 points after only getting 15 in the first half.
Trailing 15-9 at halftime, Newhalen trimmed the deficit to one point early in the third quarter, but Cook Inlet responded by outscoring the Malamutes 14-6 to close out the period.
Junior Nicole Moffis won player of the game honors with her 21 points and seven rebounds. Teammate Madison Orth followed with seven points, and surprisingly, senior Megan Bauder was held to only six points, all free throws.
“In the first half, we were sore and tired, and just not communicating,” Moffis said. “We talked about it before the second half and just started playing as a team. We’re definitely looking forward to tomorrow.”
Hitchcock said the older players on the team have been playing at a higher level, including Bauder and Moffis.
“She never used to shoot inside shots, and now she’s one of our better post players,” he said about Moffis. “It’s just a transformation of all the girls to adapt.”
One thing CIA has over Nikolaevsk, in preparation to Wednesday’s tilt, is the experience of playing for a championship. After finishing third at state two years in a row, CIA had the near-miss last year.
“Playing with younger girls, I feel like I have more experience at state with the crowd and sometimes they get caught up in it,” Moffis said. “You just have to bring them up, and once one person starts having a good game we all usually start playing better.”
Eagles 44, Malamutes 27
CIA 6 9 14 15 —44
Newhalen 1 8 11 7 —27
CIA (44) — Moffis 5 8-8 21, Davidson 1 1-2 3, Bauder 0 6-6 6, Bunts 1 0-2 2, Brush 0 0-0 0, Hammond 1 0-0 3, McGahan 1 0-0 2, Orth 2 3-6 7. Totals 11 18-24 44.
NEWHALEN (27) — Rickteroff 6 2-7 15, B. Anelon 0 0-0 0, M. Anelon 2 1-3 6, Wassillie 2 0-3 4, S. Nanalook 0 0-0 0, R. Nanalook 0 0-0 0, Z. Anelon 1 0-0 2. Totals 11 3-13 27.
3-point goals — CIA 4 (Moffis 3, Hammond 1); Newhalen 2 (M. Anelon 1, Rickteroff 1).
Team fouls — CIA 16; Newhalen 18. Fouled out — none.