With just one player to spare, the Craig Panthers were nearly outnumbered by the color guard that presented the flag before Wednesday's Class 2A girls basketball championship game at Sullivan Arena.
But six was enough for the Panthers, the team with the tournament's smallest roster and biggest prize.
Craig's six-girl team beat the Dillingham Wolverines 31-29 at Sullivan Arena to claim its first state basketball title.
"It's amazing," said Marie Yates, whose free throw with six seconds helped cement the win for Craig. "This was our goal the whole season."
A swarming defense made it seem like Craig had about seven girls on the court. Every time a Dillingham player took the ball inside the perimeter, she had at least one defender in her face, if not two.
The Panthers attacked the boards with equal fervor and gained the advantage there, 35-31. Dillingham put up far more shots -- 59 to Craig's 37 -- but Craig scooped up many of Dillingham's missed shots.
"Hustle, play defense and rebound," said Maggie Dinon, describing Craig's winning recipe. "It's pretty simple."
Craig plays the same five girls for most of the game and uses the sixth -- Effie Chen -- sparingly.
Chen is a foreign exchange student from China who had never played sports before coming to Craig this school year. Now she's a state basketball champion, someone whose 5.5 minutes of play Wednesday helped Raven Krolikowski (4 points, 6 rebounds) survive foul trouble.
"She wanted to get a taste of Southeast Alaska, and basketball is part of our culture," D.J. Hansen said. "She doesn't understand the language of basketball, but she knows English."
Dinon led Craig with 10 points and nine rebounds, and her identical sister Katie Dinon added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Yates hauled down a game-high 12 rebounds -- and she made the toughest shot of the night, sinking the first of two free throws with six seconds left, making it a two-point game.
"Really nervous," she said of her trip to the foul line. "I knew I could do it -- I had the confidence. I told myself we need this to secure it."
Her free throw was the only point the Panthers scored the entire fourth quarter.
Dillingham roared back from a 30-19 deficit in the fourth quarter, with Tiera Schroeder scoring four of her team's 10 points in the fourth quarter. Craig committed 10 turnovers in that time, many of them on Dillingham steals.
But the Wolverines never managed to catch Craig.
A Drew Carlos basket with 1:07 left made it a one-point game and Dillingham forced a turnover almost immediately after that, but couldn't capitalize.
And when Bryn Tennyson (6 points, 5 steals, 4 rebounds) fouled out with 31 seconds left, Dillingham lost one of its biggest weapons.
After the free throw by Yates, Dillingham called timeout after it got the ball near the perimeter. One second remained, and the Wolverines set up a final shot for Carlos, the Class 2A Player of the Year who was held to four points on 1 of 13 shooting. Her desperation shot fell way short at the buzzer.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG