Courtesy Daily Sitka Sentinel
The Mt. Edgecumbe Lady Braves faced a tough road after an opening-round loss to Metlakatla at the Region V tournament in Ketchikan.
The MEHS girls were looking for a bid to the state tournament, but the early-round loss meant they’d have to win four games in three days, including two March 3. The Sitka High boys made just such a run in 2009, and the Lady Braves had won two the two Saturday games in 2010 to make state, riding the momentum to a 3A state title.
This year, the Lady Braves were just shy. They won three games to earn a spot in the state play-in game Saturday afternoon at Kayhi, but the Craig Lady Panthers came back from down 10 at the half to win 58-52 and advance to state.
Craig, the 2011 Region V champs, will make their second straight trip to Anchorage for state play, this time as the two seed from Southeast. They’ll face Dillingham in the first round next week. It will be just the second trip to state in school history for the Craig girls.
The Lady Braves exacted revenge on Metlakatla Saturday morning in an elimination game, using some clutch free-throw shooting to down the Miss Chiefs 53-47. The Lady Braves had a 29-19 lead at the half of the early-morning game, but Metlakatla came back to tie the game 39-39 with 6:04 to play in the fourth quarter. The play of the game may have come with 1:52 left. Trailing 44-42, Shante Hudson drove the lane and scored a bucket that would have tied the game. But she also plowed over MEHS sophomore Scarlett Beaver in the process and a charge call negated the bucket and gave the Lady Braves the ball back. From there, Brandi Hale and Beaver kept Mt. Edgecumbe ahead from the free throw line.
The game ended just before 10 a.m. and just over five hours later the Lady Braves were back on the court at Kayhi to play Craig for a state berth. Hale, a senior from Hooper Bay, pushed the pace early for Mt. Edgecumbe, knocking down outside shots and getting to the lane as she looked to extend her MEHS career. The Lady Braves fell behind 4-0, but surged to a 17-12 first quarter lead as Hale scored 7 of her team-high 17 points. Hale ended up with 12 in the first half and the Lady Braves were up 32-22 heading into the locker room.
The MEHS girls had shot the ball extremely well and the only question was whether or not they could keep it up. Hale knocked down a three to open the third quarter that put MEHS up 35-22. And that’s when Craig made their push, going on a 17-2 run as they took a 39-37 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Braves retook the lead twice in the final period, but down the stretch it started to seem like Edgecumbe’s tough run through the backside of bracket had taken its toll. Trailing 44-43, the Lady Panthers scored the next 10 points to take a 53-44 lead late in the fourth quarter.
Craig sophomore Maggie Dinon, who had a game-high 20 points, followed up a steal and a bucket with two free throws that capped the run and gave the Lady Panthers a 9-point lead, their biggest of the game.
Mariah Martin and Brenna Johanson scored back-to-back buckets for Edgecumbe that cut the Craig lead to 53-48 with 1:05 to play, but Craig held on to eliminate the MEHS girls.
Dinon had 4 steals, 4 rebounds and 4 assists to go with her 20 points. Melissa Castle had 11 for Craig, Jeneata Johnson scored 11 of her own and Katie Dinon added 10.
Beaver scored 9 for MEHS, Johanson added 7, Martin scored 6, Fields had 5 and Melissa Fisher and Venitta Demoski added 4 each. It was the final MEHS game for seniors Johanson, Hale, Fisher and Janice Homekingkeo. MEHS coach Carl Blackhurst said the loss was a “tough pill to swallow,” particularly for Hale, the team’s senior leader.
“Those kinds of things, you want to win a game like that for those kids,” Blackhurt said.
He said the Lady Braves had to expend a lot of energy getting to the state play-in game and they ran out of gas in the fourth quarter.
“It wasn’t like any of our games came easily,” Blackhurst said. “Those kinds of games take so much emotions and focus and they played really hard. In the end, we didn’t have enough push for one final spurt.”
To make matters worse, the Lady Braves were playing without freshman Taryn White, arguably their best rebounder and post player, who suffered a concussion in the second half of an elimination game against Haines Friday afternoon. The Lady Braves won that one 34-33 to stay alive.
After the game, Blackhurst told White in the hospital that the Lady Braves would make it to state and give her another chance to get on the court. But it was not meant to be. Without White in the lane, Craig hurt MEHS on the boards in the second half of the state play-in game.
“She’s such a physical presence,” Blackhurst said. “She’s good at going and getting the ball. Craig was getting two or three looks at the basket. Once again, rebounding was our Achilles heel.”
He added: “Their effort was great. In the tournament, they played hard every game. You just come up short sometimes.”
Blackhurst should have a good nucleus of players returning next year led by sophomores Beaver and Danielle Fields and White, who is a freshman.
Fields, who missed the entire volleyball season and part of the basketball season with a hip injury, had a good tournament as she started to regain her form, Blackhurst said. The MEHS coach said he’ll take a week or two off, before diving into some offseason workouts.
"The goal is always the same,” Blackhurst said. “Now you just start over.”