If the experience level of a basketball team is relative to their performance, then the Nikolaevsk Warrior girls must be all juniors and seniors.
But they're not. Other than three juniors on the team, every player is an underclassmen.
The Warriors survived a scare from the Alak Huskies to advance to the 1A State girls tournament semifinals with a 53-50 victory on Monday at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
The Huskies were down by 18 points early in the third quarter, but the game was far from over. Alak began to find their rhythm and stormed back to actually take a four point lead with 4 minutes, 28 seconds left in the game, meaning they outscored Nikolaevsk 27-5 in a span of 8.5 minutes.
"It was tense. It was actually fun, but tense," Nikolaevsk coach Bea Klaich said. "I told the girls at halftime that they are going to come out roaring and we cannot let up and we cannot relax. We've watched them play and we knew they were a dangerous team."
Kayla Stafford led Nikolaevsk with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds, along with Nianiella Dorvall with 10 points and 12 boards. Sophia and Serafima Kalugin each added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
"I wouldn't necessarily say we were worried about it, although they did come out with a lot of fire," Dorvall said. "But we knew that we needed to calm down and play our game and not get riled up.
"I think we were frazzled by it, but overall we started cooling down and realized that we needed to play our game and control the tempo of the game."
Alak, the number one seed from the North Slope conference, grabbed an early lead with its perimeter shooting, as the Huskies were able to convert on 4 of 5 shots taken in the first half, but the Warriors' defense stepped up and began to overwhelm Alak by forcing them to make errors.
Nikolaevsk took 36 shots in the first half compared to only 20 for Alak, and outrebounded them 21 to 14. Nikolaevsk also only turned the ball over eight times, compared to 20 turnovers for Alak.
When the first half ended, Nikolaevsk had ballooned its lead to 34-20 — thanks to 23 second-quarter points — and in good position to advance to the semifinals.
Alak didn't look to have much of a shot to win midway through the third quarter, but when the fourth quarter began, Alak began scoring points. And fast.
JayJay Aguvluk did most of the damage for Alak with 10 points during the run. Aguvluk had 19 points total, hitting five of six 3-pointers.
"We were hoping our defense could stop their shooting, but all of a sudden, I felt the momentum changing," Klaich said. "I felt it, and I was concerned, but at the same time, I had faith in my girls and they know what to do in those situations, but it didn't matter what I said because they couldn't hear me. The crowd was too loud."
Alak hit six shots consecutively, three of which were 3-pointers, in the first half of the fourth quarter. Kai Nashookpuk hit a trey with 4:28 to play, and before they knew it, the Warriors lost the lead and were facing a 47-43 deficit.
"They could not miss, they could not miss. They were incredible," Klaich said. "I told my girls to switch on every screen. Every one of my girls could play a great defense and there's really no mismatches.
"Our biggest mistake was playing into their hands in the running game and running our offense. When we had a big lead, we ran our offense too fast. We had to play our offense and put up the right shots. When you have a lead, it's really dumb to put up the shots too fast, and my girls were in the frenzy of the moment, and took some shots they shouldn't have taken."
Klaich believed a few foul calls is what changed the momentum, including a technical foul that Kilina Klaich received early in the fourth quarter, and it nearly cost the Warriors the game.
"I felt that there were a couple calls that were against us that changed the tide," coach Klaich said. "I told these girls that we have to play through that, that's going to happen, and they did a great job at keeping their heads on straight.
"I'm really grateful to come out with a win, because there were moments I was doubting that it was going to go that way."
Sophia Kalugin tied the game back up at 47-47 with a free throw with 4:06 remaining, and Dorvall took the lead back for Nikolaevsk with a bucket on the rebound from Kalugins missed free throw.
Aguvluk hit a three with 2:19 left to put Alak back within a point of the lead, but Klaichs layup with 1:44 to go ended up being the last points of the game. Nianiella Dorval missed two free throws with 18.3 seconds left, and the Warriors' defense stopped Alak from putting up a buzzer-beater three.
Dorvall said even with the win, she felt she could have played better.
"I felt disappointed in myself, there were a lot of shots I missed," she said. "But that's the best thing about our team, everyone can step up when another is not playing good."
Nikolaevsk advances to the semifinal round against Aniak on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. at the Sullivan Arena.
"We think we are (a contender), but we need to take it one game at a time, and every game, we're getting better and better," Dorvall said.
Warriors 53, Huskies 50
Nikolaevsk 11 23 9 10 —53
Alak 11 9 11 19 —50
NIKOLAEVSK (53) — Stafford 2 7-9 12, Klaich 3 0-2 6, So. Kalugin 4 3-6 11, Se. Kalugin 3 3-8 10, N. Gordeev 1 0-0 2, Dorvall 5 0-2 10, Hickman 1 0-0 2, Kojin 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 13-27 53.
ALAK (50) — Aguvluk 6 2-2 19, Nashookpuk 5 1-4 14, Ahvakana 2 0-0 4, Ahmaogak 0 0-0 0, Ekak 0 0-0 0, Nayakik 2 0-0 4, Bodfish 0 0-0 0, Panik 0 0-0 0, Okpeaha 3 2-3 9. Totals 18 5-9 50.
3-point goals — Nikolaevsk 2 (Stafford 1, Se. Kalugin 1); Alak 9 (Aguvluk 5, Nashookpuk 3, Okpeaha 1).
Team fouls — Nikolaevsk 9; Alak 17. Fouled out — none.