For a team that doesn't have a single player who had ever played at the state basketball tournament until Thursday, the Anchorage Christian boys looked remarkably at home at Sullivan Arena.
In a decisive 59-42 victory over Mt. Edgecumbe, the Lions owned the boards, didn't wilt when the Braves forced six third-quarter turnovers and got two enormous buzzer-beating 3-pointers to claim a spot in today's Class 2A semifinals.
Coach Ron Hoffman said the win was the first at the state tournament in at least a decade for the ACS boys. The Lions are in the tournament for the first time in five seasons, and before that, ACS was winless in five straight tournament appearances, Hoffman said.
Not getting too overwhelmed on the big stage was a big part of this week's preparations, he said.
"We have been preaching all week that state is not about skills as much as it is emotions and getting carried away with the event," Hoffman said. "A lot of state is about relaxing."
While inexperience didn't stop the ACS boys, an incredibly young ACS girls team had a rougher time in their first-round game.
Sitka, another young team, rallied in the third quarter to stop the Lions 44-39. Trailing 21-14 at the half, the Wolves outscored ACS 15-3 in the third quarter to take command.
Sariah Ady, a 6-foot-2 junior, racked up 14 points and 13 rebounds to lead Sitka, which led 29-24 after three quarters and opened the fourth with a 6-2 run.
But Dallas Dickerson, a fiery, rail-thin freshman, almost brought ACS back with 12 fourth-quarter points, most of them coming on baskets she created for herself.
One of six freshmen on a team that has zero seniors, Dickerson finished with a game-high 16 points. Sarah Taylor, a sophomore, added a team-high 10 rebounds before fouling out.
Dickerson's performance and the overall youth of a team that trailed by only three with 14 seconds remaining could mean good things in the years to come for the ACS girls.
As for the boys, the present and the future looks bright.
The game-changing 3-pointers in the win over Mt. Edgecumbe came from Gus Simmers, a sophomore who played with poise throughout and didn't look at all panicked when he launched his buzzer-beating bombs.
The first was an improbable bank shot coming from well beyond the arc right when the halftime buzzer sounded. That gave ACS a 35-24 lead.
"That's really a back-breaker, especially coming off the glass," said 6-foot-5 center Chris Voss. "That was a huge momentum shift going into the half."
The second came in a third quarter that could have destroyed the Lions. Mt. Edgecumbe forced six turnovers but only converted on one, and any spark the defensive effort might have provided the Braves was doused when Simmers again beat the buzzer, this time by about one second, to give ACS a 45-36 lead.
"It's a big boost," Simmers said of the last-second treys. "Not only does it lift your own team, it's like a dagger in the opponent."
Hoffman, the youth pastor at Anchorage Baptist Temple, grinned when asked about Simmers' 3-pointer off the glass.
"Sometimes I think God's on your side," he said.
Then he turned serious. "Obviously we're a Christian school," he said, "and we believe if you're going to give God glory, it's by going 100 percent."
ACS gave 100 percent and then some to forge a 29-19 rebounding advantage that included 15 offensive boards.
Voss grabbed 10 rebounds to go with a game-high 20 points. Simmers added 19 points and Wes Arnes chipped in six rebounds and four assists.
Mt. Edgecombe was led by Savion Waters, a quick and creative guard who scored 16 points, many of them on driving layups.
Barrow 43, Galena 34: Tyler Adams and Victor Unutoa combined for seven steals and the Barrow Whalers scored 17 points off turnovers to get past Galena. Adams chipped in a game-high 20 points, hitting four of seven 3-point attempts.
Wayne Holmberg's 19 points and seven rebounds led Galena.
Sitka 59, Seward 52: Sitka rode 50 percent shooting and an 18-6 first-quarter lead to victory. Three-point shooting made the difference for the Wolves, who hit 6 of 9 and got a 3-for-3 effort from Mik Potrzuski, who netted a team-high 11 points.
Seward outrebounded Sitka 41-25 but hit fewer than 30 percent of its shots (20 of 65). Andrew Buchanan and Keenan Prochazka eached dropped in 15 points and Jalen Terry grabbed 14 rebounds for the Seahawks.
Monroe 37, Nome 25: Led by 14 points and six rebounds from LaDarius Milton, Monroe used a 12-4 run in the fourth quarter to secure an eight-point win. Monroe's John Michaels hit 4 of 8 field-goal attempts to finish with nine points.
Nome's Christian Leckband led all scorers with 18 points, hitting both of his 3-point attempts while shooting 7 of 12 from the floor. Leckband, one of three Nanooks to score, also led the team with eight rebounds.
Kotzebue 43, Hutchison 40, 2 OT: Christina Fields led Kotzebue with 19 points, seven rebounds and four steals to help the Huskies get the win. Dessirea Kenworthy added 10 points for Kotzebue.
Hutchison, which came from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to force overtime, got 17 points and 10 rebounds from Mimi Wood. Kiana Edwards chipped in 10 points and five rebounds.
Seward 68, Craig 51: Turnovers made the difference for Seward, which lost the ball just three times while rolling up 15 points by capitalizing on 14 Craig turnovers.
Meg Berry scored 21 points and had eight steals, Tessa Adelman added 15 points, Chelsey Clarke 14 and Jessica Stallings had 11 rebounds for Seward.
Alex Owen scored 13 points and Elizabeth Isaacs had 10 points and nine rebounds for Craig.
Barrow 62, Monroe 21: The undefeated Whalers held Monroe scoreless for all of the first quarter and only allowed two points in the second quarter to roll into the semifinals.
Nicole Smith hit 10 of 14 shots for 20 points and tallied eight steals, Melissa Gerke delivered 12 points and 11 rebounds and Jaleen Simmonds added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Whalers, who led 31-2 at halftime. Ten players logged at least five minutes of playing time for Barrow.