A bunch of middle-school boys from Barrow won a girls high school basketball championship Saturday.
The boys don't show up in the box score of Barrow's 69-59 victory over Anchorage Christian in Saturday's championship game of the Class 3A state tournament, but by practicing against the Whalers in the days leading up to state, they toughened up the girls and made them tournament-ready.
"They're all fast, like the ACS girls," Barrow point guard Angela Miguel said.
Sometimes it takes a village to win an Alaska basketball championship. Sharpened by playing the boys and buoyed by a big, loud cheering section, the Whalers claimed their second title in three years for the basketball-crazed town at the top of the world.
"When you come from a place where basketball is everything ..." senior forward Hilary Lowery said. "I'm just a little bit overwhelmed."
Lowery's 24 points and court smarts fueled the victory, as did the presence of 6-foot-4 senior center Lynette Hepa, whose size alone is a game-changer but who also brings skill and awareness.
Hepa -- whose dad is the coach of the middle-school boys team -- grabbed 15 rebounds, blocked five shots and sank 16 of 17 free throws on her way to a game-high 26 points.
ACS defended Hepa with a pair of 5-9 forwards, Becca Land and Sam Busse, and while they had some success, the Lions as a team couldn't keep from fouling her. In the first quarter alone, Hepa was on the receiving end of four fouls.
Yet the Lions dictated the tempo, thanks to a full-court press that forced numerous turnovers, many happening before Barrow even got past midcourt. The teams traded the lead 11 times and shared it 10 times before the Whalers went on a pivotal 12-0 run late in the third quarter.
Barrow tied it 41-41 with a putback by Hepa at 3:21. Seconds later, Miguel stole the ball from ACS's Dallas Dickerson, who caught up to Miguel as she was about to shoot. Dickerson, a junior who has scored more than 1,000 points in her career, appeared to cleanly block the shot but she was whistled for her fourth foul and went to the bench.
The momentum shifted with the call. Miguel hit both free throws to give Barrow the lead for good, 43-41 and the Whalers quickly expanded it. A defensive rebound led to a driving layup by Miguel and another defensive rebound led to a great outlet pass by Dana Chrestman, who connected with a streaking Lowery for an uncontested layup.
ACS called timeout and the Barrow crowd, its team up 47-41, roared. The break didn't cool off the Whalers. ACS traveled on its next possession and Barrow turned the turnover into a four-point play -- a layup by Lowery, who drew a foul on the shot and missed the ensuing rebound, setting up another Hepa putback, making it 51-41.
The Lions never got closer than six points after that.
Their defense created some great opportunities in the fourth quarter, but their shots stopped falling. After going 18 of 18 at the line in the first three quarters, ACS was 6 of 12 in the final quarter. Dickerson and Sarah Geagel, two great shooters and scorers, both missed open 3-pointers and breakaway layups, and they weren't the only ones missing.
Geagel played brilliantly, scoring 25 points, most of them hard-earned. Her eight rebounds were a team high, but Barrow crushed ACS on the boards, 42-29, with Chrestman grabbing 11.
Dickerson, whose foul trouble put her on the bench for about 10 of the game's 32 minutes, finished with 13 points.
The game was the third of the season between the teams -- Barrow won by four points and ACS by three in earlier meetings -- and it was the third time in seven years they've played for the state championship. Barrow beat ACS for the 2007 title and ACS beat Barrow for the 2008 title.
Hutchison 46, Sitka 24
Mimi Wood poured in 18 points and grabbed seven steals in Hutchison's 46-24 rout of Sitka in the third-place game.
Megan Reid's 14 rebounds and five points led Sitka.
Houston 43, Valdez 36
Nene Hale's 22 points fueled a 43-36 Houston victory over Valdez in the fourth-place game.
Alex Derifield and Marian Wamsley scored 10 apiece for Valdez.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.