All those years spent together since childhood are paying off.
For a second straight day, the Seldovia boys hoops team won by the skin of its teeth, this time getting by Anaktuvuk Pass with a 56-55 semifinal victory at the Class 1A state tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
The win sets up a March Madness championship showdown with Scammon Bay today at 3:45 p.m. at the Alaska Airlines Center. The undefeated Eagles defeated Angoon 55-49 in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
“This is much tougher than last year,” said coach Mark Janes after the game.
Janes coached his squad to the state semifinals one year ago, only to see an early exit. Now that the Sea Otters have gotten past that hurdle, all that is left is 32 minutes to decide a state title.
“I was confident we could do it,” said junior Calem Collier. “Last year, we were in the same exact boat, and I told everyone that if we ever got here again, I would make sure we weren’t going to lose.”
Consider it a promise kept.
Collier and teammate Aidan Philpot combined for 50 points Tuesday. Collier scored a game-high 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 14 rebounds, while Philpot netted 20 by shooting 10 for 12 from the free-throw line.
“They balance each other, and we play our best when they’re firing together,” Janes said.
Seldovia, a town of about 250 that sits south across Kachemak Bay from Homer that features a school of about 45 students, has never had a boys high school basketball team make it to a title bout, so today’s game is new territory.
Luckily, the Otters consist of a tight core of friends who have grown up playing the sport with and against each other, so communication and teamwork are never an issue.
“Lots of time in the gym,” Collier explained about how his team has progressed to this point. “We have open gym four nights a week, and everyone’s up there, all the time.”
Solid ball distribution and opportunistic defense led to a shooting percentage of 43 percent in the first half.
“They gutted it out, just like last night,” Janes said.
Seldovia nearly threw away a quarterfinal win Monday night against Manokotak — which also ended with a score of 56-55 — which was down to only three players in the final minutes of the game.
“The last two minutes I’m not sure how many times we threw the ball away,” Janes said. “It was a lot less this time.”
Collier said he felt much better about Tuesday’s win than the previous night, but acknowledged that every team in the winner’s bracket will leave no room for error.
“Last night was more of a challenge because they were quicker and shot better,” Collier said.
A quick start against the Wolves made life easier for Seldovia, as Collier scored 10 points of an opening 14-2 run for the Otters, including a pair of deep 3s.
From there, Anaktuvuk Pass was able to find its feet. The Wolves, a young team which entered the tournament with three eighth-graders on its roster, got buckets from Hugo Kakinya and Timothy Ahgook Jr. to tighten the game up at 21-17 with two minutes left in the first half. Ahgook Jr. ultimately led his team with 21 points and 10 boards.
A feisty defensive press from Seldovia made life hard for Anaktuvuk Pass, which suffered from turnovers and shot a meager 16 percent in the first half.
“I told the boys, we can’t do the coast to coast thing,” Janes said. “That’s their bread and butter, is running people into the ground.”
Seldovia held a 26-17 lead at halftime, but the Wolves were not done yet. Ahgook Jr. and Darin Morry continued to find more ways around the Seldovia defense, and by the early seconds of the fourth quarter had cut the lead to four points, particularly due to strong rebounding. Anaktuvuk Pass held a 57-40 overall advantage on the boards.
Both Kakinya and Tun’ana Ahgook found themselves in foul trouble late in the game, and with 4:40 remaining, Kakinya fouled out. Ahgook followed with his fifth foul with 2:40 to go. The citations led to free-throw opportunities for Seldovia, and Philpot and Collier came through in the clutch. Collier hit a pair of freebies after Ahgook’s final foul that left the Otters with a 48-43 lead.
The Wolves responded with two second-chance layups from Justic Nukapigak and Ahgook Jr. that cut the lead to 48-47 with 1:52 left, but like clockwork, Philpot and Collier found themselves on the line again when Anaktuvuk Pass was forced to foul. The Seldovia juniors hit 4 of 4 to forge a five-point lead with 54 seconds left. Ultimately, Seldovia went 8 for 8 from the free-throw line in the final 90 seconds.
It left Anaktuvuk Pass in a desperate situation.
“That last huddle … no fouls,” Janes said. “That’s a good thing as a coach, when they don’t repeat their mistakes.”
Ahgook Jr. nailed a triple with nine seconds left that brought the deficit back to two points, but Philpot sealed the win on the ensuing Seldovia possession with his final two shots from the line, leading to a joyous uproar from the Seldovia crowd.
Janes said that the team has nothing to lose at this point, and the next 24 hours will see no real adjustments for his squad.
“When you’re playing for the tournament championship, you get that extra buzz going,” Janes said.
Nikolaevsk boys 60, Elim 51
The Warriors may have lost their shot at a state title, but they earned a chance to play through to the end of the tournament.
Nikolaevsk defeated Elim Tuesday at the Alaska Airlines Center to advance in the consolation side of the winner’s bracket at the 1A state tournament. The Warriors will face Manokotak in Wednesday’s fourth-place game at 11:10 a.m.
“This game was win or go home,” said coach Steve Klaich. “I told the kids before the game, take care of business today or it’s over. They were motivated to go out and play well.”
Monday night, the Warriors faced one of the most formidable single threats they have seen all year in Angoon forward Duncan O’Brien, who poured in 42 points in a 54-43 win over Nikolaevsk.
“We tried everything we could think of against him, but it wasn’t happening,” Klaich said. “He’s just a phenomenal athlete.”
Klaich said turnovers hurt his squad in that game, as the Warriors gave the ball away 23 times.
Klaich said Tuesday was a different story. The Warriors turned it over 18 times, and in those instances, Nikolaevsk managed to stop the Eagles on breakaways. He was particularly pleased with his squad’s consistency on defense.
“They had four solid quarters and didn’t have that down period where we let the other team make a run at us,” he said.
Nikit Fefelov led the offense with 19 points, including 8 for 10 from the free-throw line, and eight rebounds. Jonah Fefelov added 16 points and seven boards, and Felemon Molodih netted 10 points.
Klaich also praised freshman guard Kalenik Molodih, who scored seven points on offense and kept Elim in check on defense.
“I’m very pleased, he had the game of his life,” Klaich said.
Elim’s Ralph Saccheus proved difficult to handle for the Warriors, as the led the Eagles with 22 points on 50 percent shooting.
The Eagles started quick with an 11-7 run to begin the contest, but Neil Gordeev soon began chipping away at the lead with a few putback layups for Nikolaevsk. Gordeev ended up shooting 4-for-9 for eight points.
Nikolaevsk took the lead for what ultimately was the final time early in the second quarter when Jonah Fefelov cut inside and laid in a bucket to put the Warriors up 16-15. On the opposite end of the court, Nikolaevsk began to increasingly frustrate Elim.
“We did a good job contesting shots and stopping the dribble-drive, but we di dn’t do a good job rebounding,” Klaich said. “Most of their points were second-chance points.”
Elim collected 14 offensive rebounds (compared to seven for Nikolaevsk), leading to 44 field goal attempts in the second half. Overall, Elim attempted 72 field goals in the game, compared to just 47 from Nikolaevsk.
“They were boxing out too deep, and the long rebounds were going over the top of them,” Klaich said.
Elim cut the score down to 32-28 with 5:57 remaining in the third quarter, but from there, Nikolaevsk went on a 10-4 tear to finish the frame, taking a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter and holding on for the win.
Klaich echoed girls coach and wife Bea’s thoughts regarding the future of the Nikolaevsk hoops program.
“Seven of the eight kids are already committed to going to basketball camp this summer, and I hope the eighth one’s on board,” Klaich said.
Sea Otters 56, Wolves 55
Anaktuvuk Pass 6 11 14 24 —56
Seldovia 14 12 11 19 —55
SELDOVIA (56) — Ozyildirim 0 0-2 0, Waterbury 0 1-4 1, Collier 10 6-7 30, Haller 0 0-0 0, Philpot 4 10-12 20, O’Leary 2 1-4 5. Totals 16 18-29 56.
ANAKTUVUK PASS (55) — Ahgook 1 0-0 2, Kakinya 3 0-0 8, Lincoln 3 0-0 6, Morry 3 2-2 11, Nukapigak 2 0-0 5, Ahgook Jr. 7 6-10 21, Nay 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 8-12 55.
3-point goals — Seldovia 6 (Collier 4, Philpot 2); Anaktuvuk Pass 7 (Morry 3, Kakinya 2, Nukapigak 1, Ahgook Jr. 1). Fouled out — Ahgook, Kakinya.
Warriors 60, Eagles 51
Nikolaevsk 11 18 13 18 —60
Elim 13 11 8 19 —51
NIKOLAEVSK (60) — K. Molodih 2 3-5 7, Trail 0 0-0 0, N. Fefelov 4 8-10 19, Gordeev 4 0-0 8, F. Molodih 5 0-1 10, J. Fefelov 6 2-3 16, Kalugin 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 13-19 60.
ELIM (51) — Anasogak 2 0-0 4, J. Takak 0 0-0 0, L. Saccheus 0 0-0 0, I. Saccheus 1 0-0 2, N. Saccheus 0 0-0 0, T. Takak 5 0-0 10, Aukon 1 0-0 2, Nakarak 3 0-0 7, R. Saccheus 9 2-2 22, R. Takak 0 0-0 0, Nylin 0 0-0 0, Daniels 2 0-0 4. Totals 23 2-2 51.
3-point goals — Nikolaevsk 5 (N. Fefelov 3, J. Fefelov 2); Elim 3 (R. Saccheus 2, Nakarak 1). Fouled out — Anasogak.