Their star got off to a stumbling start, they led for less than three minutes in four quarters, they trailed by five points in the crunchiest of crunch times and what appeared to be their last gasp at a tying shot in regulation came up short.
Despite all those obstacles, though, the Galena girls generated a dramatic comeback in regulation Saturday afternoon, owned overtime and earned the first girls state basketball championship in school history.
With star Jenna Buchanan making a game-tying put-back just before the buzzer ending regulation, Galena racked a 67-58 win against Sitka to capture the Class 3A title at Sullivan Arena.
"It's a really big deal,'' Buchanan said. "Never have the Galena girls even got into the championship game.''
With both teams putting on a free throw-shooting clinic -- Sitka sank 19 of 22 from the line and Galena 14 of 16 for a combined 86.8 percent - and rarely separated by more than five points, they delivered a gem.
"Both teams played so darn well, right to the end,'' said Galena coach Beth Buchanan, the mother of Jenna, a senior, and Sarah, a freshman. "Great game. I'm so honored and blessed to be a part of it.''
After Sitka's Kendal Phippen hit three of four free throws in the final minute, Galena trailed 51-46 with 26.7 seconds left. Sophomore Shania Burley drained a long 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds left to cut the gap to 51-49, and the Hawks four seconds later forced a Wolves turnover.
With about four seconds remaining, Galena's Josephine George launched a shot from the right baseline. All Jenna Buchanan, the state Class 3A Player of the Year, knew was that she needed to bang the boards.
"I knew the shot was going up because she's a smart player,'' Jenna Buchanan said. "I have faith in Josephine, but if it wasn't going in, I had to get that ball and get it up quick.''
George's shot came up short, but Buchanan snagged the rebound and tied the game 51-51 with a put-back with a second or two left.
"She does not give up,'' Beth Buchanan said of her daughter, who will play college ball at UAA. "She's just relentless.''
The buzzer sounded as Galena inbounded the ball.
"Once we got them to overtime, I really thought we would have them because of that momentum change,'' said Beth Buchanan.
In the four-minute overtime, Galena's Bethany Green and Burley buried consecutive three-pointers and the Hawks made 10 of 12 free throws, with Burley and Buchanan each sinking four of four.
Buchanan, who scored 20 points in a first-round win over Seward and 26 in the semis against Dillingham, scored just two points in the first half on 1 of 6 shooting. But sister Sarah, Burley and George each scored five first-half points to hold Sitka's lead at intermission to just 20-19. Burley knocked down 4 of 7 shots from beyond the arc and furnished 18 points and five steals.
"They step up every single game, and it's good to have teammates like that,'' Jenna Buchanan said.
With some isolation plays run for Buchanan in the second half, she got in a groove. She bagged seven points in the opening 2:35 of the third quarter and finished with game highs of 25 points, 11 rebounds and six steals.
Sitka literally received a contribution from all eight girls who played regular minutes. With senior Hunter Huddleston out after shredding her left knee in the final minute of Friday's semifinal win over Anchorage Christian, Sid Riggs scored 14 points, Megan Reid added 12, and Sariah Ady scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Phippen made clutch free throws, Karly Fuller drained three of her four shots, Katina Wathen dished six assists, and Sophia Mudry and Kelsi Kubik each hit both of their free throws.
Holding Sitka back, though, were its 27 turnovers, compared to just 11 from Galena.
"The girls played with a lot of heart,'' said Sitka coach Rich Krupa. "The big difference was turnovers. The girls played so hard. They emptied the tank. They have nothing to be ashamed of.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Galena (67) -- Burley 18, Green 5, Erickson 3, S. Buchanan 5, George 6, J. Buchanan 25, Sheldon 5.
Sitka (58) -- Phippen 3, Ady 10, Riggs 14, Fuller 6, Mudry 4, Kubik 5, Wathen 4, Reid 12.
Galena 10 9 12 20 16 -- 67
Sitka 12 8 14 17 7 -- 58
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News