The Ninilchik High School boys basketball team survived a late Cook Inlet Academy rally and few heart-stopping moments with seconds left to play to clinch its first District 3/2A tournament championship in recent memory, defeating the Eagles 49-48 at Skyview High School Friday.
"When we were up by three, and that last timeout was called, I was starting to get happy," said Ninilchik's Jesse Hostetter. "Then (CIA) got the ball, and they were fouled from the 3-point line. ... All my emotions just dropped. I didn't know what to think."
Cook Inlet Academy's Luke Myers stepped to the foul line for his three shots and kept the standing room-only crowd in suspense for another minute, hitting his first two free throws to pull the Eagles to within a point before having his final shot rim out.
With just 1.2 seconds on the clock, the Eagles were unable to scramble after the rebound fast enough to put up one more shot, and the Wolverines had their first district title in at least 15 years.
"I've never felt anything that great," Hostetter said of the emotional outburst when the buzzer finally sounded.
"I was relieved," Ninilchik's John Matson said after a sip from a celebratory bottle of sparkling apple cider. "We set this as a goal all season, and it's come true.
"I've been stressing about it a lot lately."
Ninilchik had clawed its way back into the lead after trailing by four points, 27-23, at the half.
Buck Kvasnikoff opened the third quarter with a two-point put-back, and Steven Miller hit a 3-pointer to give the Wolverines a one-point lead.
The teams traded leads throughout the quarter, and Matson beat the buzzer for two points to knot the game at 37 entering the final period of play.
Ninilchik put together a seven-point run late in the fourth quarter, getting six of those points from Miller, to lead 49-43 with just under two minutes to play.
CIA's Justin Franchino hit for three points with 1:35 to play, pulling the Eagles to within three points and setting up the last-minute scramble that led to the foul on Myers' 3-point attempt with a second left in the game.
"I'm proud of this team," Franchino said. "We were down by six with hardly any time left on the clock, but we didn't get down. We kept our heads up, and we almost got it. ...
Ninilchik's Jesse Hostetter pulls down a rebound in front of Cook Inlet Academy's Jacob Peterson during the second quarter of Friday's District 3/2A championship.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"You've gotta give Ninilchik a lot of credit. They fought hard all season. They play very intense basketball. They deserved it tonight.
"I really believe the better team won tonight."
Franchino and Calder Hillyer each scored 14 points for the Eagles while Myers finished with 20 points.
Miller paced the Wolverines with 15 points while Hostetter netted 12 points and Kvasnikoff scored 10.
Ninilchik coach Chris Hanson said he didn't change anything before facing the Eagles one more time.
"Basketball's not about magic. When you go against good teams, you don't see new stuff. Good teams go with what got them there," Hanson said.
Hostetter said the only difference between the tournament championship game and the regular season might have been a step up in intensity.
"It's probably the toughest defense I've tried to play all year," Hostetter said. "I worked as hard as I could, fighting through screens."
"We just went at it, played hard, did what we were supposed to do," Matson said. "We made shots at key times."
WOLVERINES 49, EAGLES 48
CIA 15 12 10 11 -- 48
Ninilchik 13 10 14 12 -- 49
COOK INLET ACADEMY (48) -- Powers 0 0-0 0, Hillyer 5 1-4 14, Peterson 0 0-0 0, Franchino 6 1-1 14, Gabriel 0 0-0 0, Myers 8 3-5 20. Totals -- 19 5-10 48.
NINILCHIK (49) -- Schollenberg 0 0-1 0, Miller 6 2-2 15, Bock 1 0-0 3, Matson 3 3-3 9, Hostetter 5 2-3 12, Kvasnikoff 5 0-3 10. Totals -- 20 7-12 49.
3-point goals -- Cook Inlet Academy 5 (Hillyer 3, Franchino 1, Myers 1); Ninilchik 2 (Miller 1, Bock 1).
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