The Seldovia boys took their game — and their school — to a rare level Monday at the Class 1A state basketball tournament at the Sullivan Arena with a 55-47 victory over Yakutat.
The win advanced the Sea Otters into Tuesday’s boys state semifinals for the first time since 2008, where they will face Toksook Bay at 7 p.m.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Seldovia coach Mark Janes. “It’s big, but we can’t rest on that, we’ve got to keep pushing.
“I keep telling the kids, we’ve made it every step so far, we wanted to play at the Sullivan, and we did it, so tomorrow’s the next one.”
As recently as 2012, Seldovia competed at the Class 2A level, but dropped down to 1A before last season due to Alaska School Activities Association reclassification. However, almost all of Seldovia’s opponents also made the transition to 1A, nullifying the naysayers who point out the drop in competition.
“All the old-time Seldovia folks will say it was in 2A,” Janes added. “But it’s all the same teams. It’s huge.”
Once again, Aiden Philpot came up big for Seldovia with 27 points and seven rebounds, shooting nearly 50 percent. Teammate Calem Collier added 12 points.
“Calem and Aiden kind of put it on their shoulders and when they want to score, they take the ball and do it,” Janes said. “Calem had some great breakaways, just pushing that ball, getting them in and making plays.
“Aiden was catching them on their heels, so it was good they could do that.”
Philpot and Collier said they understand the significance of making it to the semifinal round, but both added they are trying to keep calm and focused.
“I was kind of scared at the beginning because you never know what you’re going to go against,” Collier said.
“We always come out slow in the third, but we’re a fourth-quarter team,” Philpot added.
Collier spent much of the game running the offensive plays, as he typically does, with Philpot doubling as a wingman. It proved to be more effective than Yakutat’s leading duo of Kalani Russell and Billy Brown.
Russell led Yakutat with 16 points, while Brown nearly scored a double-double with 14 points and nine boards. Brown attempted 25 field goals total on Monday, but only converted on five, while Russell shot 6 for 16.
“We were going to let Billy Brown beat us, but not Kalani Russell,” Janes said.
After a back-and-forth first half that resulted in a 28-24 halftime lead for Seldovia, Janes said he was emphasizing ball control to the team, and the Sea Otters responded well, only losing the ball 12 times.
“The previous game we had 18 (turnovers),” Janes said. “So we’re bringing it down.”
Seldovia’s ballhandling and crisp passing ultimately overcame the slight height advantage that Yakutat enjoyed.
Trailing 36-31 late in the third quarter, Seldovia managed to stem the momentum the Eagles had and began pushing back.
“It’s just what we do, I guess,” Philpot said. “We always play like we’re down, even if we’re leading.”
Dylan Waterbury hit a crucial go-ahead 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in the third quarter that put Seldovia up 38-36. Adding to his big play was the fact that Waterbury competed with a bandaged right hand, due to an infection he sustained from a previous injury.
“He stepped up,” Janes said. “He’s on antibiotics, he can barely touch the ball, he’s in a bit of pain, but he’s out there the whole game.”
The trey spurred a run of 13 unanswered points for Seldovia, and was a part of a bigger, 20-5 run that ended with a Philpot layup with 1:51 remaining in the game that left Seldovia with a 51-41 lead.
In the final 1:39 of the game, Yakutat managed three field goals, but was countered by a combined 4-for-6 free-throw shooting from Philpot and Collier in the final minute.
Four of Seldovia’s five starters played all 32 minutes of the game, including Waterbury, Philpot, Collier and Chance Haller. The only substitution between two players came for starter Seth O’Leary and Souleymane Sidibe in the first half.
Yakutat’s Billy Brown, Josh James, Jon Jensen and Robert Lekanof also played the entire game.
Sea Otters 55, Eagles 47
Seldovia 11 17 10 17 —55
Yakutat 11 13 12 11 —47
SELDOVIA (55) — Sidibe 0 0-0 0, D. Waterbury 3 0-0 7, Collier 4 3-8 12, Haller 0 2-4 2, Philpot 9 7-10 27, O’Leary 3 1-4 7. Totals 19 13-26 55.
YAKUTAT (47) — Brown 5 4-7 14, James 6 0-0 12, Jensen 1 0-0 3, Lekanof 1 0-0 2, Russell 6 0-0 16, Newlun 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 4-7 47.
3-point field goals — Seldovia 4 (Philpot 2, Collier 1, D. Waterbury 1); Yakutat 5 (Russell 4, Jensen 1).
Team fouls — Seldovia 10; Yakutat 15. Fouled out — Russell.