Cook Inlet's Amie Smithwick goes up for a shot against Ninilchik in the fourth quarter of Friday's Peninsula Conference championship.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Brooke Forsi had a clear message for Nikolaevsk.
And rather than using her mouth to deliver it, she let her hands do all the talking.
Cook Inlet Academy's senior captain turned in one of the most spectacular all-around performances in recent memory, collecting 23 points, 11 rebounds, eight blocks and six steals in leading the Eagles into the Class 2A state tournament for the second straight year with a convincing 53-42 victory over Nikolaevsk in the second-place game of the Peninsula Conference tourney Saturday at Skyview High School.
"I didn't want them to score," Forsi said of her emphatic swats. "I just wanted them to know that we are the team that's going to go to state, and they can't take it away from us."
The Seldovia boys also conveyed a strong statement by knocking off Cook Inlet Academy, 64-58, for the second time in three days on Saturday in advancing to their first state tournament since 2000.
"I think the whole town will be excited," said Seldovia coach and Peninsula Conference coach of the year Russ Radliff.
Senior Levi Harkness netted nine of his game-high 24 points in a wild second quarter during which the Sea Otters turned a seven-point first-quarter deficit into an eight-point lead at halftime by dropping an incredible 32 points on 14-of-21 shooting.
After not getting as many touches as he would have liked and scoring only eight points in a championship-game setback to Bristol Bay on Friday, Harkness also had a message for his teammates before Saturday's game.
"We've got three of the biggest guys in the league. I'm the tallest guy in the league. But Bristol Bay, I'm sure they play teams like that and they realize what I can do down low," the 6-foot-6, mohawk-capped Harkness said. "I talked with the underclassman, like Darin (Baines) and Matthew (Gain) ... and I told them, 'If I'm open, hit me.'"
Forsi played with a similar chip on her shoulder.
Following a dramatic one-point loss to Ninilchik in Friday's championship contest, Forsi said she had a lot to prove against the Warriors.
"I just came out and I was just really wanting to play really good (Saturday) because I wasn't happy with the way I played (Friday). I was just pumped for the game. I was like, 'We are going to state,'" she said with a laugh. "I think I was just so bummed out that we lost that you can't really be happy with anything you did. I was like, 'I could have done this better. I could have done that better.'
On Saturday, "I was just like, 'I'm just going to come out, I'm going to play hard, I'm going to get up mentally and I'm going to do my thing.'"
She did more than that.
Knotted at 9 after eight minutes, Forsi recording three of her blocks in the quarter, she sent the Eagles into the locker room with an 11-point cushion after stringing together a personal 6-0 run to close the first half.
Forsi then carried that momentum into the third quarter, scoring 10 points including two off her own miss and four on two acrobatic, over-the-head shots that somehow found the bottom of the net in staking the Eagles to a commanding 43-25 advantage entering the fourth.
"You've got to be proud of her. She is a scrapper," said Brooke's father and CIA coach Ted Forsi. "She has a passion for the game, a passion for the sport." She saved her best for last, though.
When Nikolaevsk's Cassie Fefelov scored two of her team-high 23 points with 6:15 to play, Forsi responded with an impressive bucket just 20 seconds later, lofting a shot over her shoulder while her back was pressed against a defender and facing the basket. Two more massive blocks in the final 2:30 as well as three points from the foul line helped seal Cook Inlet's berth in the state tournament.
"She usually gets a few blocks every game," said Ted Forsi, who also earned coach of the year honors. "A lot of people don't notice that. A lot of people don't notice defensive effort but that's a huge part of the game."
Chelsea Hardcastle also scored 10 points and Holly Kopp eight for the Eagles, who will likely take on defending 2A state champion Yakutat in the first round at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage on March 18.
"We didn't come out ready for the game. We were just kind of all, 'Oh my gosh, we're at state!' We weren't actually ready to go win," Brooke Forsi said of last year's first-round loss to Point Hope. "We know we can play with (Yakutat) ... if we don't get into the other team's game and just do our thing and don't let them get to us, we can play with anyone."
The Sea Otters proved they can do the same.
Five different players scored during a second-quarter 10-2 run that turned a six-point deficit into a one-point lead with 3:47 to play in the half.
That's where Harkness took over yet again.
Scoring 19 points against the Eagles in Thursday's semifinals, including 11 of his team's final 13 points, Harkness delivered seven points in the closing 2:25 of the second and Baines added a pair of 3-pointers from the same corner spot as Seldovia suddenly owned an eight-point halftime lead.
After the game, Harkness spoke of the clutch shooting by Baines, a sophomore who came of the bench for nine points, all on treys.
"I was loving it. He came out on fire. Same spot every single time," he explained. "He works in practice. When he's hot, he's hot, he ain't going to miss."
Jordan Geagel netted four of his eight points and Tim O'Leary added two of his 12 in the third quarter as the Sea Otters extended their lead to 10 with a little help from the Eagles, who hit just 2-of-13 shots in the frame.
Cook Inlet persevered, though, climbing within six points on three occasions in the fourth, twice on buckets by Scott Litchfield, who led the Eagles with 16 points, and once on a foul-line jumper by Shane Moffis (13 points).
They even cut it to 62-58 with 51 seconds remaining when Eric Bell nailed a 3-pointer from the corner, just the fourth successful attempt on 23 chances in the game.
But a pair of free throws by O'Leary coupled with six missed treys by Cook Inlet in the final 46 seconds sent the Sea Otters to state and Eagles home for the season.
"I think the kids knew that we were stronger than them. Inside, we're bigger and stronger," Radliff said. "They didn't hit their outside shots late. They had to play two games yesterday. They might have been a little tired, too.
"But they're a good team. My three seniors, they have no seniors on their team, and I think (our seniors) felt like they could win from the get-go," he added. "They played hard and the other kids kind of rode along with them."
Now what may have seemed improbable to many, is reality for a team who believed the entire way.
"It's been the ultimate goal since my freshman year," Harkness said. "This is a pretty big achievement."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
EAGLES 53, WARRIORS 42
Nikolaevsk 9 3 13 17 42
Cook Inlet 9 14 20 10 53
NIKOLAEVSK (42) C. Fefelov 8 4-7 23, S. Fefelov 0 2-6 2, V. Yakunin 1 0-0 2, E. Yakunin 5 2-6 12, Bailey 0 0-0 0, Gordeev 1 1-5 3. Totals 15 9-24 42.
COOK INLET (53) Smith 0 0-2 0, Bauder 0 0-0 0, Hardcastle 4 1-6 10, Kopp 4 0-0 8, Smithwick 3 0-0 6, Rang 0 0-0 0, Brush 3 0-4 6, Forsi 7 9-17 23. Totals 21 10-29 53.
3-point goals Nikolaevsk 3 (C. Fefelov 3), Cook Inlet 1 (Hardcastle). Team fouls Nikolaevsk 20, Cook Inlet 21. Fouled out E. Yakunin, Smithwick.
SEA OTTERS 64, EAGLES 58
Seldovia 8 32 11 13 64
Cook Inlet 15 17 9 17 58
SELDOVIA (64) Kroll 0 0-0 0, Baines 3 0-0 9, Swick 3 2-6 8, Geagel 4 0-0 8, O'Leary 5 2-3 12, Gain 1 1-2 3, Harkness 11 2-4 24. Totals 27 7-15 64.
COOK INLET (58) Munn 2 1-2 5, Litchfield 5 4-6 15, Rowley 2 1-2 5, S. Moffis 6 0-1 13, Smithwick 1 2-2 4, Bell 2 0-0 6, Holly 0 0-0 0, Doyle 4 2-4 10. Totals 22 10-17 58.
3-point goals Seldovia 3 (Baines 3), Cook Inlet 4 (Bell 2, Litchfield 1, Moffis 1). Team fouls Seldovia 18, Cook Inlet 18. Fouled out Geagel.
Austin Vanderford, Ninilchik; Mason King, Bristol Bay; Scott Litchfield, Cook Inlet; Levi Harkness, Seldovia; Ryan Doyle, Cook Inlet; Griffin Swick, Seldovia; Jonah Yakunin, Nikolaevsk; Michael Jedlicka, Bristol Bay; Tylor Sutherland, Ninilchik; Shane Moffis, Cook Inlet; Tim O'Leary, Seldovia
Brooke Forsi, Cook Inlet; Heidi Skjold, Ninilchik; Amie Smithwick, Cook Inlet; Efrosia Yakunin, Nikolaevsk; Courtney Collier, Seldovia; Katie O'Leary, Seldovia; Grace Ehlers, Ninilchik; Lindsey Rohr, Ninilchik; Shawna Wilson, Bristol Bay; Stevie Klein, Bristol Bay
Austin Vanderford, Ninilchik; Levi Harkness, Seldovia; Michael Jedlicka, Bristol Bay; Griffin Swick, Seldovia; Ryan Doyle, Cook Inlet; Brycin Pacheco, Bristol Bay; Scott Litchfield, Cook Inlet; Shane Moffis, Cook Inlet; Jonah Yakunin, Nikolaevsk; Tylor Sutherland, Ninilchik
Lindsey Rohr, Ninilchik; Brooke Forsi, Cook Inlet; Grace Ehlers, Ninilchik; Cassie Fefelov, Nikolaevsk; Amie Smithwick, Cook Inlet; Efrosia Yakunin, Nikolaevsk; Katie O'Leary, Seldovia; Courtney Collier, Seldovia; Holly Kopp, Cook Inlet; Valerie Yakunin, Nikolaevsk; Shawna Wilson, Bristol Bay
Boys MVP Mason King, Bristol Bay
Girls MVP Heidi Skjold, Ninilchik
Boys free throw champion Mason King, Bristol Bay
Girls free throw champion Brooke Forsi, Cook Inlet
Boys 3-point shootout champion Scott Litchfield, Cook Inlet
Girls 3-point shootout champion Heidi Skjold, Ninilchik
Boys Sportsmanship Award Nikolaevsk
Girls Sportsmanship Award Nikolaevs
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