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No. 1 seed Hooper Bay boys hold on late to avoid upset in 2A state basketball semifinals

Mar. 17—Despite having not won a game in the state tournament in three years, at the beginning of the 2023-24 season, Hooper Bay head coach Albert Green reinforced in his players they could go the distance and make it all the way to the 2A state championship game.

"You just need to believe," he told them.

After fending off a ferocious late rally attempt by No. 5 seed Metlakatla in the final minute of their semifinal bout on Friday night, the Warriors finally turned belief into a tangible 48-44 victory.

"The kids really played their hearts out," Green said. "What concerned me was (Metlakatla's) size but I knew we had quickness over size. The kids showed that if they believe, anything can happen."

It's been 11 years since a Hooper Bay boys hoops team last made it to the state finals and this year's squad wants to continue to give their small community in Western Alaska a reason to smile and be proud.

"I think (the community) really needed something to cheer for having so many tragedies that happen," Green said. "Like any other village, we lose loved ones to suicide so the boys really wanted to play for the community and the people that we lost. It means so much for them to represent Hooper Bay."

[Hooper Bay snaps winless streak at 2A state tournament with blowout win over Unalaska]

The Warriors proved resilient against a dangerous Chiefs team that was trying to return to the state finals after coming up short in the semifinals last year. They dug themselves out of a four-point deficit after the first quarter and even though they held the lead the rest of the way, it was far from easy.

"I knew it was going to be a dog fight, I knew it was going to be a one or two possession game, and I knew that they weren't going away," Green said.

A tightly contested battle is exactly what they got from start to finish. They only led by a single point at halftime and were up just 37-32 heading into the fourth quarter.

Through the first half of the final quarter, Hooper Bay was in firm control and even threatened to take a double-digit lead but Metlakatla would not relent. The Chiefs were able to make it a three-point game at the 2:20 mark and trailed 45-44 with 29 seconds left to play.

However, every time they found themselves in jeopardy of potentially losing the lead, one of the Hooper Bay players stepped up with a clutch bucket or rebound. The game-sealing board was corralled by senior captain Carson Long, who recorded 13 points and led the team with eight rebounds to earn Player of the Game honors.

"We have a good bench and two or three players who can come off the bench and contribute," Green said. "They're not shy about taking the big shot. I just tell them to be ready for the moment."

Petersburg comes from behind to beat Cordova late

Petersburg is headed back to the 2A boys state championship game for the first time since 2017 after rallying to beat the Wolverines in the semifinals on Friday night.

"I'm blessed to have a great group of guys to work with and I'm so happy for them," Petersburg head coach Rick Brock said. "We have four seniors that put a lot of time and effort into this."

The Vikings, who play out of Southeast, were ranked No. 1 in the state in 2020 but COVID cost them a chance to contend for a title that year.

"I'm so happy for the team, community, and school for us to be back in the big dance," said Brock who was the coach of the 2017 team that won it all. "We're very fortunate to have great support back home, a great parks and recreation program where kids can start playing, and AAU basketball."

Petersburg trailed for most of the first half but never let the game get out of hand and was only down by five at halftime.

"Thank goodness for halftime," Brock said. "We were able to get in the lockerroom and settle in a little bit."

The Vikings began mounting their comeback in the third quarter and forced a 27-27 stalemate by the end of it. They opened the fourth quarter with a 4-0 run to take the lead for good and outscored the Wolverines 21-11 in the second half overall including a trio of clutch free throws to ice the game after an intentional foul call.

"We made an adjustment on the defensive end and even changed that into the third quarter and started picking up full court (press)," Brock said. "We just did a better job of guarding them and then the offensive end, we took our time a little bit more and spread them out and got better looks."

His team is ecstatic to have made it this far but know that the job is not done yet.

"We've just been talking about taking full advantage of every opportunity that you have and we'll try to do that tomorrow," Brock said.

Petersburg and Hooper Bay will face in final championship tilt on Saturday night for a chance to end the title droughts of their respective programs.

Metlakatla girls use second-half surge to clinch back-to-back finals appearance

After trailing for the entire first half, the Metlakatla Chiefs from Southeast were able to turn a three-point halftime deficit into a comfortable victory in their 42-35 win over Nenana in the semifinals, punching their ticket to the 2A state championship game for the second year in the process.

Tyson Hayward is in his first-year as the head coach of the school's girls team after being an assistant on the boys team last year and was proud of how well his team rebounded from the early adversity.

"It's been a great journey, they've guided me," Hayward said. "It was a team effort and the team comes together when they need to and they know how to win."

Senior Ryley Booth hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the third quarter to put the Chiefs up for the first time and they didn't trail again the rest of the way.

"That really opened up the floor for the team to work," Hayward said. "It spread the floor, made (Nenana) honest on defense, and their main focus switched to guarding Riley and that opened up the lane for everybody else."

All nine of Booth's points came on long balls as she finished second on the team in scoring while fellow senior Kennedy Cook led with a game-high 15 that including going 5-of-5 from the free throw line.

Hayward credited positive energy more than any schematic adjustment on their part for the team's ability to get and stay ahead.

"We had our heads down for a little bit and we started to raise them," he said. "The team just took off and started playing team basketball."

Metlakatla fell at the hands of two-time defending champion Tikigaq in last year's state finals and is confident that this could be the team that finally gets over the hump after coming up short in its last three appearances dating back to 2015.

"As long as we stay positive, I like our chances," Hayward said.

Point Hope girls cruise to third straight final appearance with blowout win

The top-seeded Tikigaq High girls basketball team got the best shot No. 5 Unalakleet had early on in the semifinal bout between the two teams on Friday night, and held only a three-point lead 13-10 after the first quarter. However, after outscoring the Wolfpack a whopping 21-9 in the second quarter, the Harpooners — from Point Hope in Northwest Alaska — didn't let up as they coasted to a 64-34 victory..

"They came out tight, but once you get refocused on defense then everything else falls into place," Tikigaq head coach Ramona Rock said. "We don't take anything for granted and the girls work really hard."

Nearly two-thirds of the team's point total came from the dynamic duo of reigning 2A Player of the Year Jennifer Nash and Tatyana Nashookpuk who combined for 41. Nashookpuk led with a game-high 21 points and was the recipient of several of Nash's smooth assists when she opted to kick the ball out. Nash nearly had a double-double with 20 points and accounted for eight of her team's 12 total assists.

"Jennifer and Tatyana have been working with (assistant) Ryan Rock who was a college ball player and works them really hard," Rock said.

The win clinched a berth to the state finals for the third year in a row for the Harpooners where they will attempt to pull off a rare three-peat when they faceoff with the Chiefs on Saturday night.

"They know they have a target on their back and I don't think there has been a three-peat up north before so this is exciting," Rock said. "We haven't played against them this year but that's what I thought was going to happen, us meeting up with Metlakatla."

ASAA 2A State Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center

Girls

Thursday

Unalakleet 41, Glennallen 38

Nenana 62, Hooper Bay 27

Metlakatla 57, Susitna Valley 30

Tikigaq 64, Haines 28

Friday

Consolation

Glennallen 32, Haines 23

Susitna Valley 33, Hooper Bay 32

Semifinals

Metlakatla 42, Nenana 35

Tikigaq 64, Unalakleet 34

Saturday

Fourth/sixth

Glennallen v. Susitna Valley at 8 a.m. (AVIS Alaska Sports Complex)

Third/fifth place

Nenana v. Unalakleet at 11 a.m. (AVIS Alaska Sports Complex)

Championship

Tikigaq v. Metlakatla at 6:30 p.m. (Main Court)

Boys

Thursday

Hooper Bay 54, Unalaska 39

Metlakatla 51, Unalakleet 47

Petersburg 44, Ninilchik 42

Cordova 48, Wrangell 45

Friday

Consolation

Unalakleet 64, Unalaska 45

Wrangell 46, Ninilchik 39

Semifinals

Hooper Bay 48, Metlakatla 44

Petersburg 38, Cordova 34

Saturday

Fourth/Sixth place

Unalakleet v. Wrangell at 9:30 a.m. (AVIS Alaska Sports Complex)

Third/Fifth place

Metlakatla v. Cordova at 12:30 p.m. (AVIS Alaska Sports Complex)

Championship

Hooper Bay v. Petersburg at 8:30 p.m. (Main Court)