Cook Inlet Academy boys head basketball coach Bruce Gabriel prepares to cut the net down Saturday night at Service High School after the Eagles' 45-33 win over Hoonah in the Alaska Class 2A state championship game. CIA finished the season with a perfect 27-0 record in Gabriel's first year as head coach.
Photo by Matt Tunseth
Clinging to a one point lead, Cook Inlet Academy head basketball coach Bruce Gabriel gathered his team around him before the start of the fourth quarter in Saturday's Alaska Class 2A state championship game.
In his first year as head coach, this was the most important moment of Gabriel's short coaching career. Using the break in the action to calm his troops, Gabriel simply told his team it was time to go win state.
"I told them basically we had to look back at our season, take a deep breath, let it out, and go take care of business," Gabriel said.
The Eagles delivered.
Gabriel's son, senior center Blake Gabriel, got things going with a quick bucket down low.
After a Hoonah free throw cut the lead to 27-25, CIA junior Justin Franchino nailed a 3-pointer to put the Eagles up five. Then junior guard Mike Kyonen hit a trey of his own. A Hoonah bucket momentarily stopped the charge, but Kyonen again lofted a deep three to put the Eagles up nine.
Less than a minute later, Gabriel again went inside to give CIA a double digit lead it would never relinquish. Gabriel finished the game with 15 points and 14 rebounds, both game-highs.
The onslaught was so sudden and unexpected in a game that was notable until that point for players' inability to knock down shots. Hoonah made just two of its 15 3-point attempts in the first half, and CIA could only manage 34 percent from the field as the teams went to the locker room with CIA holding a 19-13 advantage.
"That was one of the poorest games we've ever shot," Hoonah coach Gary Brown said after the game, which featured a second quarter that saw the Braves go scoreless for the entire period.
In the third quarter the Braves were finally able to cut into the Cook Inlet lead behind a number of acrobatic shots from sophomore guard David Lindstrom, who scored 10 of his team-high 13 points in the second half. In fact, the Braves briefly held the lead at the end of the third quarter after the explosive Lindstrom scored four points in 27 seconds.
But in the fourth quarter, Cook Inlet's players realized they had a choice to make: keep stumbling through the state title game and hope to win or come out firing and take command.
"Basically we stepped up and said, 'this is it, boys,'" Blake Gabriel said.
The Eagles dominated the final eight minutes of the game, playing with a steady confidence that left little doubt that they were the best team in 2A basketball this season.
Not surprisingly, it was Franchino's big three that keyed the late rally Saturday. The steady guard was the definition of clutch in the state tournament, hitting an unbelievable buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Friday's semifinal against Unalakleet. He only scored five points in Saturday's title game, but the timing of his only bucket was the key.
"That's just the way he is," Bruce Gabriel said of Franchino. "He always wants to take the shot."
Franchino said the Eagles' ability to steady themselves and come out swinging in the fourth quarter was the difference in the title game.
"We just had to slow things back down and play at our pace," he said.
With its third state title in the past seven years, CIA has now cemented itself as a small-schools basketball power. As for staging a sequel to 2005's epic season, Franchino said he's optimistic the Eagles can soar again.
"I'm going to do everything I can to get back," he said.
Whether or not coach Gabriel returns to relive the glory of a state title is still undetermined. With his son graduating, he said he'll have to take some time to decide if he's going to come back for another season.
"I'm going to take two very long weeks off, pretend I don't see the gray in my hair and make a decision then," he said.
It would be hard to blame Gabriel for not returning to the bench. After all, a 27-0 season is pretty tough to top. But after cutting down the nets at Service High School Saturday night, Gabriel may now have a taste for championship basketball.
"It's hard to describe," the coach said. "I'm a rookie coach. Having a 27-0 season I'm sure is like winning the lottery. There's just no words to describe it."
Despite Gabriel's comments, just one word can easily describe Cook Inlet Academy's run to the 2005 Alaska Class 2A boy's basketball title: Perfection.
EAGLES 45, BRAVES 33
Cook Inlet 13 6 6 20 45
Hoonah 13 0 11 9 33
COOK INLET ACADEMY (45) Franchino 1 2-2 5, Kytonen 2 3-6 9, Beeson 4 4-4 12, Hall 2 0-0 4, Gabriel 7 1-5 15. Totals 16 10-17 45
HOONAH (33) Bowen 4 1-2 11, Moritz 1 1-4 3, Lewin 2 0-0 4, Koenig 0 2-3 2, Lindstrom 5 2-2 13. Totals 12 6-11 33.
3-point goals CIA 3 (Kytonen 2, Franchino, Hoonah 3 (Bowen 2, Lindstrom). Total fouls CIA 16, Hoonah 20. Fouled out Hall.
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