In some ways, basketball is a lot like life. Cherish it while you can.
At least that's what Seldovia is doing.
Following a fifth-place finish at the Class 2A boys state basketball championships on Thursday, the Sea Otters were still all smiles despite suffering a lopsided 83-57 setback to Point Hope at Sullivan Arena.
That's because there's no guarantee they'll ever advance this far again
"They better enjoy it in Seldovia that they even got here and got a win," said coach Russ Radliff. "Earlier in the year, we didn't know if we'd have a team."
Next year will the same.
With the eventual departure of three crucial seniors, Radliff is hoping to find one more player to join his returning four just to field a starting five.
After that, who knows?
"If we can get one more kid to turn out we'll have a team, if not we probably won't have a team for five or six years. We don't have any boys coming up until fifth grade and fourth grade. A good group of fourth-graders is coming," Radliff said. "Unless some new families move in or something happens. But yeah, it's sad."
That's the unfortunate reality of playing a team sport in a small Alaska community.
For sophomores Darin Baines and Matthew Gain, who scored 12 points on Thursday, the taste they experienced during this memorable trip may never be relived.
"It's frustrating, especially for those two sophomores," Radliff said. "They're good players and they're really good shooters. ... Once they can develop that go-to-the-hole hard stuff, I think they're going to be really tough players. And they're getting close to that now.
"They might not even have a senior year," he added, "which is sad."
Radliff considers himself lucky they even made it as far as they did, especially since they haven't qualified for state since 2000.
He said junior Jordan Geagel and Gain weren't certain they were going to play after wrestling season and when one player became ineligible, they had to skip an early season tournament.
"January was a real struggle to get the kids back in practice and in shape," he explained. "Then we went to Nenana the last week in January, February and we played pretty good, but then the kids started coming together after that and we started playing as a team.
"Practice became fun and the kids looked forward to it and they'd show up early and leave late. February was a good month," Radliff added. "So, things came together. We hit our peak about regions and it carried over a little bit here and it's been a fun end of the season."
The Sea Otters (12-9) knocked off previously undefeated Angoon on Tuesday before falling to Galena in Wednesday night's semifinals.
Levi Harkness, who was averaging 19 points a game over the previous four contests entering Wednesday's showdown, was limited to just two points on only five shots against Galena one day after lofting 30 shots and dropping 25 points against Angoon.
But the 6-foot-6 senior was back to his old tricks on Thursday, netting 21 points on 10-for-17 shooting while facing a much smaller team than the Hawks.
"Galena, they've got those two big kids. ... They're a good team. (Point Hope), they're another good team. It's the best teams we've ever seen in my career," he said. "I got the ball inside a lot more (Thursday) and I was liking that and that was fun."
Trailing 23-13 after eight minutes, senior point guard Griffin Swick (11 points) spearheaded a 14-4 run to close the first half and send the Sea Otters into the locker room down by just seven after trailing by as many as 15.
"We got it at seven at half and I was pretty happy," Radliff explained. "The third quarter they came out on us, the kids didn't attack them right away. That third quarter really got us right away.
"After that it was just kind of going through the motions," he added. "The kids kind of gave into it. That was it."
Point Hope's Amos Lane, who scored a game-high 24 points, canned back-to-back treys near the four-minute mark of the third in extending the Harpooners lead to 20 entering the fourth.
"Amos Lane," Radliff said, "when he's open he hits it and when he's not he makes a good pass. He's a tough player."
It didn't get much better for Seldovia.
Ryan Rock made it 77-51 when he scored two of his 16 points with four minutes to play and Guy Tuzroyluk helped finish off a 50.7 percent (33-of-65) overall performance from the field when he stole the ball and easily coasted in for a layup in the closing minutes.
And while they may have been a disappointing final few minutes, they're moments members of Seldovia may cherish forever.
"This is a big achievement for Seldovia. This is the first time we've won even a game at state since I think 91-92. So, that's a pretty good achievement," Harkness said. "We're ranked fifth. I'm not complaining. I'm happy."
So is Radliff.
"We had a semifinal chance and we played a real good team and we had a chance for third and we played another real good team," he said. "We weren't even supposed to be here."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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