ANCHORAGE -- It's hard to define that thing coaches and players refer to as chemistry, but whatever it is, the Nikiski High School girls basketball team has it.
"It's trusting each other," said Nikiski senior Tiffany Cason following the Bulldogs' 52-44 win over Anchorage Christian Schools in the Class 3A state basketball championship.
"You have to have faith in each other and in the coaches. It's working together, no matter what happens."
"I knew we had great kids. Each year, there's a couple of challenges as a coach," said Nikiski coach Ward Romans. "First and foremost, there's talent. Secondly, there's chemistry. I never coached kids with this much chemistry."
Romans can't put his finger on one moment this season when he knew everything was falling into place. It was a series of moments, rather, that let him know that the potential was there.
"There's this thing I keep thinking about that saying that nice guys always finish last. This is the nices group ofkits I've ever worked with, and for them to finish first means a lot to me personally."
-Ward Romans, Nikiski girls coach
"Little moments kept sending messages," Romans said. "Until we got everybody together, I didn't really know what we had. Around the first of February, it all started to click. Grace beating us at home, and us coming back to beat ACS the next day. Beating Seward in Seward, beating Kenai in Kenai, all those little things, they kept sending messages."
While it took Romans a month or so to see just how good his team could be, most of his players knew it right from the start.
"This is what we've had our hearts set on," said Cason. "We knew we had the potential, it was just a question of when we were all going to work together all the time."
"We already had the skills," said Nikiski sophomore Sally Glaze. "We worked really hard in practice, and the chemistry got better.
"We talk on the court. We know each other so well, we know when to be there for each other. It helps your confidence -- if you get beat on the dribble, you know they'll be there to help you out."
"It's a cool moment," Romans said after taking a step back, watching his team celebrate after the game.
"There's this thing I keep thinking about, that saying that nice guys always finish last. This is the nicest group of kids I've ever worked with, and for them to finish first means a lot to me personally."
BYLINE1:By WILL MORROW
ANCHORAGE -- It's tough to beat a team twice during the season. Three times -- that's a long shot. But beat a team four times in one season, and you're probably a state champion.
The Nikiski High School girls basketball team defeated Anchorage Christian Schools 52-44 Saturday to claim the Class 3A girls state title -- its fifth title in six trips to the final in the past nine seasons.
"I can't remember being tested in a state final like we were tonight," said Nikiski coach Ward Romans, who finished his 11th season with the Bulldogs. "It was character that won it. Beating a team four times in one season, in my experience as a coach, that's really hard to do."
The Bulldogs were nip and tuck with the Lions through most of the game. The score was tied at four after the first quarter, and the Bulldogs trailed by a point, 19-18, at the half.
"You've got to credit ACS -- they had a great game plan," Romans said. "We turned the ball over 20 times in the first half, and you can't rebound turnovers. That's our trademark -- we were able to out-rebound them 37-15.
"We got a lot of points off rebounds."
Nikiski's Dayna Pritchard scored the first four points of the second half -- not enough of a run to break the game wide open, but enough to start to swing the momentum back toward the Bulldogs.
"Once we started communicating, the momentum shifted for us," Pritchard said. "Our communication on defense in the fourth quarter and right when we came out after the half really helped us out."
ACS had an answer, though, and the Lions had their one-point edge back to start the fourth quarter.
"It was gut-check time, but that's who these kids are," Romans said.
Nikiski trailed by as many as four points in the final quarter, but Sally Glaze drilled a 3-pointer with 2:25 to go to put the Bulldogs up by one, 43-42.
"I was scared that it wasn't going in," Glaze said. "It was kind of a selfish shot. I should have been looking for the post, but I'm glad it went in."
Laura Berdahl followed that with a 2-for-2 trip to the foul line to put the Bulldogs up by three, 45-42.
Amanda Hart got the Lions back to within a point with about two minutes to play, but Berdahl scored a pair of baskets in the final two minutes to give the Bulldogs just enough breathing room.
ACS turned the ball over with an errant pass with 44 seconds on the clock, and the Bulldogs were able to run that down to 19 seconds before ACS could foul to stop the clock.
The ensuing inbound play went to Berdahl, who was cutting through the lane. Berdahl was fouled on her move to the hoop, but she got her shot to fall anyway. She hit her free throw, giving the Bulldogs a 52-44 lead with 17 seconds to go.
ACS took one final shot, but the ball rimmed out. Nikiski inbounded the ball, and Berdahl had to hang on for just two seconds until the final buzzer sounded and the Bulldogs could start celebrating.
"In the last two minutes, everything I called, they executed perfectly," Romans said.
"We all knew we could do it, and it feels pretty good to prove it," said Nikiski senior Maggie Kendall. "It was a mentally challenging game, as well as physically challenging -- we've all got bruises and cuts and bloody noses. I thought everybody stepped up, and we answered right back."
Three Bulldogs were named to the All-Tournament Team -- Berdahl, who finished with 17 points, Glaze and Pritchard, both of whom scored 10 points.
BULLDOGS 52, LIONS 44
Nikiski 4 14 12 22 --52
Anchorage Christian 4 15 12 13 --44
NIKISKI (52) -- Lofstedt 3 0-0 6, Kendall 1 0-0 2, Pritchard 4 2-3 10, Jo. Carr 0 0-0 0, Glaze 3 2-2 10, Berdahl 7 2-5 17, T. Cason 2 1-2 5, Je. Carr 1 0-0 2. Totals -- 21 8-12 52.
ANCHORAGE CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS (44) -- Pokrandt 0 0-0 0, Peterson 1 0-0 2, Walker 2 0-0 4, Hart 8 4-4 20, K. Rathmann 5 1-1 12, A. Rathmann 0 0-0 0, LeBaron 1 0-0 2, Berlen 1 2-2 4. Totals -- 18 7-7 44.
3-point goals -- Nik 2 (Glaze 2), ACS 1 (K. Rathmann). Total fouls -- Nik 8, ACS 13. Fouled out -- LeBaron.
Grace Christian boys 75,
Valdez 62, OT
The Grizzlies, a representative of District 3/3A, used their patented explosiveness in overtime to earn the first state basketball title in school history.
Grace outscored Valdez 18-5 in the extra frame to make sure the Buccaneers, the state runner-up last year, would not earn their first Class 3A boys state title since 1988.
Landon Libby, who was later selected to the all-tournament team and was District 3/3A's player of the year, had 24 points to lead all scorers.
Zach Raidmae pumped in 19 points for Valdez.
Valdez girls 51, Eielson 36
The Buccaneers recovered from their loss to ACS and walked off with third place with a 51-36 victory Saturday over Eielson.
Raven Juliana Henderson led all cagers with 16 points in the losing effort.
Wrangell girls 46,
Mt. Edgecumbe 39
The Wrangell Wolves took fourth place in the state with a Saturday win over the Mt. Edgecumbe Braves.
Houston boys 70, Monroe 56
The Hawks, a District 3/3A representative, used a 23-6 advantage in the second quarter to wrap up third place at the tournament.
Jeff Huston rained in four 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 28 points for Houston.
Barrow boys 55, Nome 46
The Whalers overcame Brent Chadwick's 21 points and 9-of-9 effort from the foul line to wrap up fourth place at the tournament.
Class 3A girls -- Laura Berdahl, Nikiski; Amanda Hart, ACS; Sally Glaze, Nikiski; Deshina Lamb, Eielson; Lizzy Romane, Wrangell; Emily Kellett, Valdez; Halane Isidore, Mt. Edgecumbe; Lucy LeBaron, ACS; Petra Jenkins, Bethel; Dayna Pritchard, Nikiski.
Class 3A boys -- Landon Libby, Grace; Todd Eide, Valdez; Brian Pickard, Valdez; Travis Packer, Barrow; Zack Raidmae, Valdez; Hans Tulip, Grace; Jeff Huston, Houston; Casey Perkins, Nome; Cam Chase, Monroe; Adam Lewis, Grace.
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