Getting there is half the battle for Otters

Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2008

Forget about the games.

Just getting to the last weekend's Peninsula Conference tournament was quite an adventure for the Seldovia basketball teams.

"We flew in whiteout conditions to get there. We were just grateful to make it to the other side. We don't worry about the game," said Sea Otters coach Russ Radliff. "It's scary sometimes. ... The kids are troopers. Once we get to the other side, they're ready to go."

Getting home afterward was even more challenging.

Forced to boat across Kachemak Bay after flights were grounded, some members of the teams, as well as parents and coaches, were stranded in Homer as only six to eight people could fit aboard the boat.

"Just playing basketball in Alaska is pretty exciting," Radliff said.

But he's more than willing to make that sometimes frightening trek to the mainland one more time this season.

Placing second in the conference tournament and earning their first Class 2A state tournament berth since 2000, the Seldovia boys will take on undefeated Angoon on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.

And not knowing anything about the Eagles other than their unblemished record, the Sea Otters will be prepared for anything.

"In the league you learn tendencies and what kids can do what. You can make adjustments by the second game and by the third time, you really know each other," he explained. "When you're playing blind, it's tough not knowing anything about them and you make adjustments as the game goes on and hope you make the right adjustments in time.

"During the season you have all season to work on it," Radliff added, "here you have 32 minutes to work on it."

After handling Lumen Christi in the opening round of the conference tourney, the Sea Otters stunned host Cook Inlet Academy, 66-63, en route to the championship contest, where they fell to Bristol Bay, 71-53.

The realization of how crucial 6-foot-6 senior post Levi Harkness is to Seldovia's success set in during the victory over CIA, but was quickly lost in the setback to the Angels.

Harkness, difficult to miss with a 1- to 2-inch mohawk extending from his head, was the catalyst in the Sea Otters victory over the Eagles, scoring 11 of his team's final 13 points en route to a 19-point performance.

Against Bristol Bay, however, he netted just eight points and didn't touch the ball nearly enough to be effective.

But Harkness responded by dropping a game-high 24 points, nine in the second quarter alone, in leading the Sea Otters past CIA for the second time in three days in earning the conference's second state berth.

"It's big every game," Radliff said of getting his big man the ball. "Even though we've had different kids step up and score in different games, if we can get him the ball, it opens everybody up. Teams have to contend with him inside."

Captaining Seldovia's offense and working the ball inside to Harkness and Jordan Geagel is senior Griffin Swick, who averaged 14.5 points a game in the conference tournament and scored 15 in the first half of the Sea Otters' first victory over Cook Inlet.

"Control the momentum and you control the game if you get that lead," Radliff said. "That's what Bristol Bay did to us. They controlled the momentum of the game that way."

If Seldovia beats Angoon, they'll likely take on defending 2A state champion Noorvik, who already topped the Sea Otters earlier this season at the Nenana Invitational.

Radliff isn't looking that far ahead, though.

"If you can't win the first one, you can't win the third one," he said.

One thing all coaches hope for is that their teams don't get blindsided by the bright lights and the big stage of the state tourney. Especially having never been before.

"Everything's a new adventure for these guys. ... Hopefully they're not too in awe of the whole situation," he said. "We'll see how they react. Not knowing anything about the other team is kind of an issue. The whole thing is kind of an issue."

Whatever happens for this edition of the Sea Otters, most of the community will probably be there to witness it.

"We don't have that many people in town during the winter," Radliff said. "So, it could be the whole town.

"The last one out better turn the lights off."

Matthew Carroll can be reached at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.



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