The Seldovia boys basketball team had to fight its way through a tough schedule this season, which made the Sea Otters look worse than they really were.
In the end, however, it paid off with the best end result at a state tournament.
Seldovia topped Shaktoolik 66-55 in the Class 1A tournament to grab third-place honors. The previous best finish for a Seldovia squad was fifth place in the 2008 tournament at the 2A level.
“It’s big,” said Seldovia coach Mark Janes. “We were third going into our region (tournament) so no one really expected a lot from us, and last year we were fifth. So they really, really improved.”
The star of the game emerged in the form of junior Seth O’Leary, who scored 27 points and nearly had a double-double with nine rebounds.
“Last night was a big devastation,” O’Leary said, referring to Tuesday’s semifinal loss to Toksook Bay. “It killed me to not be able to go to the championship. But I thought, I can’t get down on myself, there’s still one more game, so I just need to play my last game of the season and make it count.”
O’Leary racked up the impressive stats with solid play under the basket, shooting 11 for 18 from the field.
“Coming to state, that’s one thing,” O’Leary said. “Getting third, that was a dream.”
Seldovia sophomore Aiden Philpot added to an already impressive tournament with his fourth double-double in as many games, scoring 18 points and grabbing 22 boards.
“It’s crazy because no one’s ever done it before,” Philpot said about the Seldovia boys’ latest triumph. “I didn’t think we’d be here at the start of the season, but, we’re here.”
Janes said he was directing his team by giving out defensive assignments in a man-to-man scheme.
“It’s like giving them a job,” Janes said. “It gets them a little more focused on the defensive end, and they get a little more aggressive and it transfers over to the offense as well.”
After a fast start which saw Seldovia stake out a 24-10 lead in the first quarter, the boys had to use a late rally just to keep ahead.
The Sea Otters found better success in their shooting, managing 40 percent from the floor compared to 30 percent for the Wolverines. Shaktoolik also attempted 29 shots from beyond the arc, hitting six of them.
Seldovia crashed the glass better too, out-rebounding Shaktoolik 55-31, which also led to 16 second-chance points on Shaktoolik.
“I think we were just clicking on offense,” Janes said. “Those guys have a lot of vertical, so I think we were just positioned right most of the time.”
Trailing Seldovia 35-27 at halftime, Shaktoolik came out swinging in the second half, getting better looks at the basket than it had earlier, especially from senior Vernon Rock, who ended up with 21 points on the day to lead the Wolverines.
“They came out a little flat in the third, and it happens to us a lot, we let the other team come back in,” Janes said. “We rolled into it thinking it’s our game, and the other team wanted it a little more than us at that point.”
With 1:16 to go in the third quarter, Alex Sampson drained a 3 to tie the game at 39-all, and Melvin Hunt added two free throws on the next possession to give Shaktoolik a two-point lead, the first of the game for the Wolverines.
Calem Collier answered back for Seldovia with a trey that put the Sea Otters back up by a point, and Philpot wrangled a steal away on the next Wolverines possession and tossed in a layup to pad the lead. At the end of the third quarter, Seldovia led 44-41.
O’Leary then went on a scoring binge with 10 of Seldovia’s next 11 points in the fourth quarter, resulting in a 55-45 lead with 4:15 left in the game.
“I knew we had to focus on controlling the ball, because (Shaktoolik) would come at us hard,” Janes said. “We had to get the ball into our free-throw shooters hands, because they were going to foul.”
After a layup from Nathan Savetilik and a trey from Rock, Shaktoolik was back within five points, but Seldovia responded with an offensive rebound putback from Philpot with 3:04 to go, and a full-court heave from Collier to O’Leary that resulted in an easy layup that put Seldovia ahead by nine with 1:18 left.
From there, Shaktoolik played the free-throw game, as Collier, Philpot and Dylan Waterbury all took turns hitting freebies in the final 36 seconds, putting up 7 of 8 to clinch the victory.
Janes said he is glad to know that all of the boys are expecting to return next year, save for exchange student Souleymane Sidibe, and added that he plans on working out another tough season schedule.
“I’m working on it already,” he said.
Sea Otters 66, Wolverines 55
Seldovia 24 11 9 22 —66
Shaktoolik 10 17 14 14 —55
SELDOVIA (66) — R. Waterbury 0 0-0 0, Sidibe 0 0-0 0, D. Waterbury 0 1-5 1, Collier 6 2-2 18, Haller 1 0-0 2, Philpot 6 6-10 18, O’Leary 11 5-6 27, Swearingen 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 14-23 66.
SHAKTOOLIK (55) — Savetilik 1 0-0 2, Auliye 2 0-2 4, Hunt 0 2-2 2, Rock 7 6-10 21, Sampson 4 0-2 9, Paniptchuk 6 1-1 17, Takak 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 9-17 55.
3-point field goals — Seldovia 4 (Collier 4); Shaktoolik 6 (Paniptchuk 4, Rock 1, Sampson 1).
Team fouls — Seldovia 16; Shaktoolik 18. Fouled out — Auliye.