The Cook Inlet Academy girls basketball team outlasted the Nikolaevsk Warriors in a thrilling triple-overtime game to win the Class 1A state championship 43-39 on Wednesday at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
The strategy that the Eagles used in the second and third overtime periods proved to be the difference, as CIA simply held possession of the ball and nearly ran the clock out before attempting to score.
Senior Darlene Bunts had the game-winning layup with 28 seconds left in the third overtime, and Madison Orth iced the game with two free throws with 17.3 seconds remaining.
“Yet again, here’s another time that Darlene Bunts came in and had a huge basket to turn the tide,” CIA coach Rustin Hitchcock said. “She’s had hardly any time in her first three seasons, and she’s just come in here and now is a full-time player for us. I don’t get it, but I like it.”
In a game that Nikolaevsk seemingly had won in the closing stages, it is only appropriate that CIA rallied back and ultimately took the victory — a victory that had eluded them in the Class 2A state title game last year.
“I think this is definitely our most memorable tournament,” said senior guard Megan Bauder. “You know, day one we changed venues, then we went up against the number one team in the state, that was a challenge, and then we had to bring our best today.”
“It’s very memorable, very satisfying,” senior Cara Davidson added. “It’s everything we thought we could possibly do. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
For the Eagles, it’s their first state basketball championship, and for Nikolaevsk, their first state title berth.
The game was a defensive battle early on, as only 10 points were scored between the two teams in the first quarter in addition to 23 turnovers, and, like any championship game, the stat sheet showed no significant advantage for either team.
Tied at 15 at halftime, the Warriors began to distance themselves from Cook Inlet with buckets from Nianiella Dorvall and Sophia Kalugin.
Nikolaevsk held a 31-24 lead with 4 minutes, 31 seconds, left in the game, but CIA junior Nicole Moffis scored five of Cook Inlet’s seven points in the final minutes to tie it up at 31 at the end of regulation.
“Nikolaevsk controlled us in the first half, we got away with our zone, kept the bigs off the boards but then we increased that tempo, and yet again, like that Buckland game and the Klawock game, they stormed back in the second half,” Hitchcock said. “It’s that heart and the refusal to quit that made this a special team this year.”
In the first overtime period, Moffis gave CIA its first lead of the game on a free throw with 12 seconds remaining, putting the Eagles up 39-38. On the ensuing possession, Nikolaevsk sophomore Kilina Klaich attempted the game-winning shot at the buzzer.
When she missed, CIA began celebrating, but the refs called the ball out of bounds and put four-tenths of a second back on the board.
“We knew we had to keep those emotions in check,” Bauder said. “I wanted to jump up and celebrate our win, but then the ref gave them the .4, so we just had to roll with it.”
That’s when it really got interesting, as Kayla Stafford put a shot up at the buzzer, but was fouled by Ashleigh Hammond from CIA.
“That .4 second call, I thought that was a gift,” Nikolaevsk coach Bea Klaich said. “We were able to catch and shoot and get a foul off of that, I thought it was perfect. Kayla has nerves of steel, and I thought she would drain both free throws, and let me tell you, she is really beating herself up over that.”
But, Stafford only hit one of two, and so it went to double overtime. That’s when CIA decided to hold the ball.
Hitchcock said the team had talked about it before, and the inspiration for it was from CIA boys coach Justin Franchino, who was a part of the Cook Inlet boys team that pulled the same strategy to win the 1999 Class 2A state title by topping Anderson 41-38. Franchino said when his team did it, they held the ball for about six and a half minutes in the fourth quarter.
Cook Inlet Academy boys coach Tim Keener wasn’t about to apologize for that strategy in 1999 after the CIA boys’ first state title, and Franchino followed the same tact Wednesday after the girls used the same method as the boys to nab their first state crown.
“What I was telling them was that in this case, the defense is stalling,” Franchino said. “It’s not the offense. If the defense is going to sit back and let you hold it, then that’s their decision. Why penetrate when you can have the last shot?”
Hitchcock said Wednesday’s plan played out well.
“We always had that in the back of our mind, and we knew if it’s an overtime game, if we got the jump, which Nicole was able to get over their girl twice, that’s what we wanted to do,” he said. “They just executed perfectly, and we have two of the best point guards in the league, and the third one’s coming up because she’s a sophomore. So we can just run that ball back and forth and if they’re not playing pressure defense, why not?”
In the second overtime, Hitchcock called a time out with 8.2 seconds left, and Davidson’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer ended up as the only shot of the entire four-minute period.
CIA employed the same strategy in the third extra period, and it paid off when Bunts received a pass from Davidson and put in the layup with 28 ticks left, and Orth’s free throws sealed the deal.
“I just didn’t even think about it, the game wasn’t over,” Moffis said about the extra playing time. “We had to keep playing. We have a lot of girls that have stepped up, and I know that they can rise to the challenge again.”
Moffis ended up leading CIA with 19 points, while Bauder added eight and Davidson grabbed six rebounds.
Dorvall led the Warriors with 16 points, 14 coming in the second half, and teammate Serafima Kalugin pulled down nine boards.
Cook Inlet’s strategy brings up the debate over whether high school basketball should incorporate a shot clock, and while Klaich said that she did not consider CIA’s strategy a dirty move, she would like to see ASAA look into creating a rule.
“I think high school ball needs to put a 30-second shot clock in,” Klaich said. “I would like to play them straight up, and not that way. It’s very good strategy, and I have to hand it to them for winning it that way. But I believe with all my heart that if we would have played them straight up, we would be champions today.
“When you have good ballhandlers that can do that, then it’s a good strategy, and they did good. But, my girls are beating themselves up about the mistakes they made, but they did great.”
Hitchcock said although overtime always creates stressful situations, he also was able to enjoy the moment and savor coaching the team because a few key players — namely Bauder and Davidson — will be gone next year.
“It was good because I didn’t want to end the season, even if we did win it, I love that group and I wanted to keep playing,” Hitchcock said. “We were ready to go 10.”
1A State Championship
Eagles 43, Warriors 39
Cook Inlet 4 11 6 10 8 0 4 —43
Nikolaevsk 6 9 12 4 8 0 0 —39
CIA (43) — Moffis 6 5-6 19, Davidson 0 5-8 5, Bauder 3 2-2 8, Bunts 1 0-0 2, Brush 0 0-0 0, Hammond 1 0-2 3, McGahan 1 0-0 2, Orth 1 2-4 4. Totals 13 14-22 43.
NIKOLAEVSK (39) — Dorvall 7 2-2 16, Klaich 1 0-0 3, Jones 0 0-0 0, So. Kalugin 2 3-4 7, Stafford 2 3-4 8, Se. Kalugin 1 3-4 5, N. Gordeev 0 0-0 0, Hickman 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 11-14 39.
3-point goals — CIA 3 (Moffis 2, Hammond 1); Nikolaevsk 2 (Klaich 1, Stafford 1).
Team fouls — CIA 17; Nikolaevsk 19. Fouled out — Se. Kalugin.