A hard-fought battle between the West and Bartlett girls highlighted a busy day of semifinals in the Cook Inlet Conference basketball tournament at West High on Friday.
The third-seeded West girls upset the second-seeded Golden Bears with a 50-46 win to earn a shot at the top-seeded Dimond girls in Saturday's championship game. The Lynx earned their spot with a 68-36 win over fourth-seeded South.
In the boys semifinals, second-seeded East put on a defensive clinic in a 70-41 romp over sixth-seeded Eagle River and top-seeded Service blew by West with an 85-66 win.
All four semifinal winners earned automatic berths in the Class 4A state tournament later this month at Sullivan Arena.
Pulling off Friday's narrowest victory required a lot of free-throw shooting for the West girls, who combined with Bartlett to attempt 58 foul shots in a see-saw battle. The Eagles held a distinct advantage at the line, thanks in part to an aggressive offensive game plan. West hit 25 of 38 foul shots and Bartlett made 11 of 20.
"The one thing I told our team was don't let your season end shooting jump shots," West coach Stanley Engel said. "I told them to attack the basket."
No free throws were bigger than the four straight made in the final minute by Alistie Aguilar, who led the Eagles with 15 points. She gave West a 45-43 lead when she drained a pair with 39 seconds left, and 10 seconds later made two more to push the lead to 47-43. Bartlett scored the next three points to make it 47-46, but West held steady, sealing the win with a free throw from Chanel Bookert and a layup from Shiccia Harris Grant.
Tightly contested finishes make things interesting, Aguilar said, and are always preferable to blowouts.
"It was really fun," Aguilar said. "I'm glad the game ended how it did, because it just made emotions much better."
Bookert, who racked 10 points, 13 rebounds and three steals, said she felt calm down the stretch and never doubted the Eagles would prosper.
Nadine Fraker led Bartlett with 14 points, hitting three 3-pointers along the way. Kiera Stokes chipped in 12 points and Tiemchieng Panoam, who fouled out with about two minutes left, hauled in 13 rebounds.
"I think all in all, our girls played phenomenal," Bartlett coach Steve Stansbury said. "I love this team, this great group of kids. It's tough, it's always tough to lose."
The Dimond girls don't know how it feels to lose in CIC play this season, having gone 14-0 during the regular season. The Lynx dominated Friday's semifinal against South behind 14 points, six rebounds and six assists from Tara Thompson. Kirenna Liggon pitched in 11 points for the Lynx, and Sierra Afoa notched eight points and nine rebounds.
Still, Bookert thinks Dimond is beatable and thinks West can take down the Lynx in Saturday's championship game.
"Stopping their transition and outrebounding them," Bookert said. "If we do those two things, we'll be champions."
Saturday's title game between the East and Service boys will be a rematch of one of the season's most dramatic games. East is the only CIC team to beat Service during the regular season, doing so on a dramatic buzzer-beater by Jarred Laws last month. It was a win that gave the Thunderbirds a lot of confidence, said East's Xavier Johnson, and it propelled them to some of the their best basketball down the stretch.
East was in top form Friday, holding Eagle River to just three first-quarter points and racing to a 35-13 halftime lead. Johhnson pumped in five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 19 points, Austin Huss hit for 15 and Laws added 11.
"We can play really well in spurts," second-year East coach Josh Muehlenkamp said. "My kids can get out there defensively and are starting to learn how to play together, and get each other's backs and then finish possessions with defensive rebounds."
As excited as East is for another shot at Service, the Thunderbirds were just as excited about making the state tournament for the first time since 2007.
"We are really enjoying working hard and working with each other," Johnson said. "When we play together it's hard to beat us."
Eagle River, led by 10 points and six assists from Shaquan Rhoades, upset third-seeded Dimond in the first round, but struggled mightily against East for the third time this season.
"There's something with East," Eagle River coach Fred Young said. "The only team we've laid down against all year long is East, all three games, I mean just laid down."
Adam Klie powered the Service boys win, putting up 22 points and pulling down 13 rebounds, both game highs. Marques Robinson pitched in 19 points for the Cougars, who also got 15 points from C.J. Toomer and 12 from Ihro Raguindin.
Deandre Wilson led West with 18 points and I.K. Oghide scored 12.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
Hilary Lowery scored half the points for the Barrow girls basketball team Friday at Dimond High, furnishing 16 of her game-high 35 in the third quarter of a 70-37 Western Conference championship victory over Nome. The Bethel boys also claimed a Western Conference championship, slipping past Nome with a 49-47 win.
Dana Chrestman added 12 points for the Whalers, Angela Miguel knocked in 11 and Lynette Hepa deposited 10.
In consolation action, the Barrow boys benefitted from 16 points apiece by Leroy Long and Lawrence Kaleak to beat Kotzebue 61-35.
Mary Sue Hyatt led the Kotzebue girls with 13 points, scoring seven in the third quarter to spark a 31-28 consolation win over Bethel.
Western Conference tournament
At Dimond High
Kotzebue 31, Bethel 28 (consolation)
Barrow 70, Nome 37 (championship)
Barrow 61, Kotzebue 35 (consolation)
Bethel 49, Nome 47 (championship)
Northern Lights Conference tournament
Palmer 49, Kenai 44
Kodiak 34, Colony 18
Wasilla 62, Soldotna 40
Wasilla 51, Kenai 48
Palmer 58, Kodiak 53 (semifinal)
Colony 58, Soldotna 45 (semifinal)
12:45 p.m. -- Colony vs. Soldotna (third-place)
11 a.m. -- Kodiak vs. Soldotna (third-place)
2:30 p.m. -- Colony vs. Palmer (championship)
Southcentral Conference tournament
Seward 41, Houston 34
ACS 67, Nikiski 41
Cordova 37, Skyview 26
Homer 47, Grace 40
ACS 67, Houston 14
Cordova 60, Nikiski 51
Skyview 36, Homer 35