The Cook Inlet Academy boys basketball team certainly had a lot to think about Saturday night -- their faith, a fallen teammate and coach ready to ride off into the sunset.
Oh yeah -- there also was the Alaska School Activities Association State 2A Championship, pitting the Eagles against the Ninilchik Wolverines, a team that had beaten CIA in two of their three meetings prior to the state tournament, including a one-point victory by the Wolverines in the championship game of the District 3/2A tournament just a week earlier.
Pressure? What pressure?
"I want to give thanks to Jesus Christ -- Coach (Tim Keener) told us before the game that this game was a gift from God," said CIA's Justin Franchino. "The second person the game went to was Bryan Staton. He won (a state title) in 1999 -- I know how he feels now. I grabbed the guys in the huddle when there a few seconds left in the game. I just reminded the guys, 'This one's for Bryan.' We wanted to show how much we love him.
"The third person is Coach. We just wanted to play this one for him. Besides, it's basketball. It's supposed to be fun. Every game is meant to be played to the fullest."
The Eagles certainly played Saturday's game to the fullest, going into double overtime before edging the Wolverines 43-40.
"What I told the guys in the locker room before the game was this wasn't theirs to win or lose. If they did the work, whatever He had in mind for them would happen," Keener said. "During one of our timeouts late in the game, I said, 'God put you in a heck of a game'."
It was a heck of a game for the Wolverines, too, who faced the Eagles a night after going to three overtimes for an 82-67 win against Point Hope in a game which many at the tournament were calling the best high school game they'd ever seen.
"Five overtimes -- I know I'm exhausted," said Ninilchik's Salty Bock. "I think (CIA) just had more heart today than we did."
Bock said the Wolverines' tournament run was a memorable one, but he added that it may take a while before its a fond memory after Saturday's loss.
"It'll come around. Right now, I'm just disappointed in losing," Bock said.
The Eagles got contributions from every player on the floor in winning Saturday's game, from Franchino's play in the post to charging calls late in the game drawn by Jacob Peterson to key steal from Bryan Powers to blocks by Calder Hillyer and steady ballhandling from Luke Myers, an effort that mirrored CIA's season.
"The great thing about this team is that there's five of us," Franchino said. "You can't just stop one of us. You have to stop the whole team. All season, all five of us have made all-tournament teams at different tournaments. What we do in the game is play smart basketball."
It's that type of chemistry that Keener said made his final season as CIA coach all the more memorable.
"It was the journey, not the wins and losses," Keener said. "It was the journey with all the kids I've coached. That's what's special. That's what's made me a better person."
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