In a span of less than two hours Saturday evening, the two girls basketball state finalists at the Class 1A level from a year ago were eliminated from championship contention in the opening round of tournament play at West High School.
The reigning champion Cook Inlet Academy Eagles were dealt a 37-24 loss by Yakutat, and the team that took them to three overtimes in last year’s title game — the Nikolaevsk Warriors — was upset by Buckland 43-42.
The losses puts both squads into the consolation bracket Monday. Nikolaevsk will play Kake at 8 a.m., while CIA will face Huslia at 3:30 p.m. Both games are at West High School.
Nikolaevsk, a team fresh off the Peninsula Conference championship, struggled down the stretch to contain Buckland’s main scorers from getting looks under the basket, namely sophomore guard Taylene Jones, who led the Sissauni with 17 points.
“I knew that if I tried to slow the ball down too much and too quick, we’d be in trouble because that’s what helped us get back in the game,” said Nikolaevsk coach Bea Klaich. “When we try to slow the game down too early, we’re vulnerable to turnovers, and I felt it was too early to go into ball control.
“I told the girls to keep attacking, and unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”
The Warriors let a six-point lead slip away with under five minutes to go by giving up turnovers and rebounds. Jones put Buckland ahead for good with 1 minute, 5 seconds, remaining on a driving layup that was set up by a Nikolaevsk turnover.
On the final possession of the game — when they trailed by a single point with 5.4 seconds to go — a rebound shot by Megan Hickman off a Nianiella Dorvall field-goal attempt fell short at the buzzer.
“I asked (Dorvall) after the game if she got fouled, and she said she did,” Klaich said. “But sometimes in tight situations, that call doesn’t get made.”
Dorvall, a senior who was recently named the Class 1A girls player of the year, led Nikolaevsk with 16 points and five rebounds, but she faced pressure all game long from Buckland, and also gave up a game-high seven turnovers.
“I knew we had a tough first-game matchup,” said Nikolaevsk coach Bea Klaich. “I thought they did a good job of being aggressive and denying us the ball.
“What it came down to for us was missed free throws and turnovers.”
Nikolaevsk was 10 for 23 from the free-throw line, and suffered 23 turnovers that contributed to 15 points.
“The girls have had to play catchup before, and they’ve always had good second halves,” Klaich said. “When I went into halftime with the girls, they weren’t demoralized at all. I liked the way they came out and played with a lot of heart.”
Nikolaevsk senior Sophia Kalugin had 10 points and six boards.
Early in the game, it looked like Nikolaevsk would get their tournament started off on a hot streak, as they did last year, building a 12-5 lead by the early minutes of the second quarter.
But the momentum shifted when Buckland began to find open looks from beyond the arc, and after three consecutive 3-pointers, Nikolaevsk was suddenly looking at a 18-12 deficit with 1:55 to go in the first half. Buckland ended the half on a 17-2 run to take a 22-14 lead into halftime.
“Just keep your head in the game,” Buckland coach Fred Lee told his team. “Just like we’ve done all year.
“My girls can run through all four quarters, but we tried to pick up our pressure on defense, and they keep their head in the game.”
Nikolaevsk pushed back in the third quarter, outscoring Buckland 15-8 in the frame, led by 11 points from Dorvall and Kalugin.
The Warriors took the lead on a free throw from Serafima Kalugin with 6:02 left in the fourth quarter, and stretched it to 40-34 with 4:41 to go.
That was when Buckland scored nine unanswered points to retake the lead for good.
“It’s a big letdown,” Klaich said. “All season long, the girls have had their eye on winning state, especially after last year.”
Yakutat girls 37, CIA 24
After the Nikolaevsk upset, the Cook Inlet Academy Eagles were the next ones to fall victim to late surge and tumble into the consolation bracket.
Leading 16-11 at halftime, CIA was stifled by Yakutat in the third quarter by only scoring three points, all from free throws.
“I told them that I don’t remember being on offense in the second half,” said CIA coach Rustin Hitchcock. “I just don’t. We just didn’t really get an opportunity to run any of our plays, which, we were working, but we were missing some clutch free throws and some down-low, easy shots.”
Madison Orth led CIA with 10 points and seven rebounds, but had half of her team’s eight total field goals. Kendra Brush scored CIA’s only basket in the second half. Yakutat, on the other hand, managed 15 field goals.
Yakutat came out with a plan to shut down one of CIA’s main threats, senior Nicole Moffis, and was largely successful. Moffis scored seven points.
“We were just really trying to concentrate on her not having any open looks at the bucket,” said Yakutat coach Rose Gordon. “The last couple minutes we we’re just trying to run our man offense and stretch the court. Then we could go for some open buckets that were there, and they really picked it up, and really took care of the ball.”
With 4:37 to go in the game, Brush’s layup closed CIA’s deficit to 26-23, but Yakutat took advantage of turnovers by CIA to close the game on an 11-1 run, getting layups and jump shots from Kasia Adams and Janie Jensen. Both players had 10 points to lead Yakutat.
“We’ll be having practice tomorrow as if we had won,” Hitchcock said. “Go through our normal state procedure. I think habit and routine are important for state tournaments, so we’re going to stick to that.”
Sissauni 43, Warriors 42
Buckland 5 17 8 13 —43
Nikolaevsk 8 6 15 13 —42
BUCKLAND (43) — Melton 3 2-5 10, R. Hadley 1 0-2 2, Jones 6 4-5 17, Washington 1 0-0 2, Thomas 5 0-0 10, B. Jones 1 0-0 2, C. Hadley 0 0-2 0. Totals 17 6-14 43.
NIKOLAEVSK (42) — Ki. Klaich 0 2-2 2, Fefelov 0 0-0 0, So. Kalugin 4 2-4 10, Stafford 3 3-4 9, Se. Kalugin 1 1-7 3, Dorvall 7 2-4 16, Hickman 1 0-2 2. Totals 16 10-23 42.
3-point field goals — Buckland 3 (Melton 2, Jones 1); Nikolaevsk 0.
Team fouls — Buckland 19; Nikolaevsk 14. Fouled out — Jones.
Yakutat 37, Cook Inlet 24
Yakutat 7 4 11 15 —37
CIA 9 7 3 5 —24
YAKUTAT (37) — Jensen 4 2-2 10, Newlun 3 0-1 6, Lord 2 3-3 7, Adams 4 1-2 10, Bell 1 0-0 2, Pate 1 0-0 2, Long 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 6-8 37.
CIA (24) — Hanna 0 0-0 0, Moffis 2 3-6 7, Taplin 0 0-0 0, Hills 0 1-2 1, Brush 2 0-0 5, Lyons 0 0-0 0, Hammond 0 0-0 0, McGahan 0 1-2 1, Orth 4 2-4 10. Totals 8 7-14 24.
3-point field goals — Yakutat 1 (Adams 1); CIA 1 (Brush 1).
Team fouls — Yakutat 11; CIA 10. Fouled out — Orth.