Trailing by eight points at halftime of their Class 3A semifinal in the state basketball tournament Friday, the Sitka girls did not conduct a pity party at intermission.
Instead, the Wolves retreated to their locker room at Sullivan Arena and, well, enjoyed a really good time.
"We just started getting pumped up, doing stuff to make us happy and get us inspired,'' said Sitka center Sariah Ady. "We cheered, we listened to music, we screamed. We had fun.''
The good times carried over into the second half, when Ady spearheaded Sitka's comeback for a 56-50 over Anchorage Christian School and a spot in the Saturday's championship game.
Sitka will face Galena, a 54-51 winner over Dillingham in a dizzying semifinal -- both Sitka and Galena are after their first state championship.
Ady's game-high 21 points, 13 of which came in the second half, helped the Wolves dig back after trailing from the tip-off. ACS boosted its lead as high as 12 points in the first half and never trailed until a free-throw from Sitka's Hunter Huddlestun gave the Wolves a 36-35 lead with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
The Lions, state champions in 2008 and 2009, and runners-up in 2010, made Ady, a 6-footer with length, work for her points. Chelsea Snyder and Samantha Busse took turns leaning on Ady, and the officials let the girls play.
But Ady is accustomed to getting banged around. Sitka coach Rich Krupa and assistant coach Jarrett Hirai regularly pound on the senior, and 5-9 sophomore Megan Reid, in practice.
"We just beat the living crap out of them to make them tougher,'' Krupa said.
And lately the staff has brought in Chatham Conner, a boys basketball player, to get bruising with the post players.
It's all good, Ady said.
"It makes me stronger, and I know these (ACS) girls can hit even harder,'' Ady said.
The Wolves, who trailed 32-24 at halftime, never got control of the game until less than two minutes remained. With the game tied 50-50, Ady grabbed an offensive rebound and banked home a shot for a 52-50 advantage. Reid, who scored 12 points, and Sid Riggs each added free throws in the next 1:12, and Ady iced victory with two free throws with 4.2 seconds left.
The first two games of the state tournament have been trying for the Wolves. They needed double overtime to beat defending state champion Barrow, 57-52, on Thursday, and the Lions pushed them to the brink Friday.
"It's been tough, but we kept our composure and finished it out,'' Reid said.
After hitting just 25 of 51 free throws (49.0 percent) against Barrow, the Wolves sank 20 of 33 (60.6 percent) against ACS.
Lions sophomore guard Dallas Dickerson, with ample help from junior guard Sarah Geagel, kept ACS in the game throughout.
Dickerson led the Lions with 19 points -- she hit all five of her free throws -- and added three assists, one steal and one block. She played 30:39, the most of any player in the game. Geagel added 15 points.
As gratifying as it has been for Sitka to win two tight games and advance to the championship game, though, the Wolves suffered a sad setback Friday. Senior guard Huddlestun crumbled in the lane with 62 seconds left, was in obvious distress with an injury to her left knee and appeared done for the season. Later, she was on a gurney for transport to a hospital.
"She's been the heart of the team, our vocal leader -- it's just devastating,'' Krupa said.
Galena 54, Dillingham 51
In a game of momentum-swinging, second-half runs, Galena held off Dillingham to move into the championship game.
The stat sheet reports that Galena's Jenna Buchanan racked a game-high 26 points, nine rebounds, five steals and two blocks, but it was the play-by-play sheet that really revealed how crazy things got in the second half.
With the game tied 26-26 at halftime, Galena promptly opened the second half with a 15-0 run in the opening 4:43 of the third quarter to grab a 41-26 lead. Dillingham promptly answered with a 19-4 run that created a 45-45 tie with 3:44 to go in the game.
"I think we let them get back in it,'' said Galena coach Beth Buchanan. "We didn't complete passes, we didn't go get passes and (Dillingham) plays in the passing lanes really strong.''
But the Hawks, who received eight points from Bethany Green, regrouped to regain control of the game. Beth Buchanan said her team has endured a season of tight games, which has allowed them to develop composure. Coaches try to replicate tight situations in practice; the Hawks have lived that experience in games.
"We've had weekend after weekend after weekend like that, so when we're in that situation, the girls have grown enough to know, 'Hey, we can do this,' " Buchanan said.
Kristen Smeaton led Dillingham with 14 points, 10 rebounds and six steals, and Kaley Rolf added 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, including eight offensive rebounds.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News