Last year John Chakuchin was part of a Toksook Bay team that came to the state tournament looking to see what it takes to get to the top. This year Chakuchin and his Nelson Island teammates are looking to finish on the top.
The Islanders will play for their first Class 1A state basketball championship Wednesday thanks to Chakuchin, who supplied two defensive stops and a three-point play in the final minutes of a 42-37 semifinal win over Seldovia on Tuesday at Sullivan Arena.
Toksook Bay will make its title-game debut against defending champion Klawock, a 70-54 winner over Shaktoolik in the other semifinal game.
"I always dreamt of it," Chakuchin, a junior, said of playing for the state championship. "It's very exciting. Everybody is cheering for us back home."
Toksook Bay was 1-2 at last year's state tournament and will go home with a trophy this year, whether it's for first place or second place.
"That was a learning experience," coach Simeon Lincoln said of last year, "so coming into this, they had their eye on the target. They knew what it would take."
Against Seldovia, it took pressure defense that rattled the Sea Otters into numerous turnovers and powered a fast-paced offense. Toksook Bay came up with 16 steals, blocked four shots and was constantly on the go.
"My kids are pretty young still, and I think that pressure -- Toksook Bay is really in your face, they're in your grill, they're coming after you," Seldovia coach Mark Janes said. "They kept coming at us and forced those turnovers."
Chakuchin had four steals, including a big one when Seldovia was surging, having cut an eight-point deficit to four, 35-31, with less than four minutes to play.
Chakuchin's steal set up a jumper by Matthew Pitka to make it 37-31. Seldovia answered to again make it a four-point game and then made a defensive stop to get a chance to cut Toksook Bay's lead to two.
But Chakuchin blocked a Seldovia shot, the Islanders got the ball and Chakuchin cashed in with a jumper, drawing a foul on the shot and hitting the free throw for a 40-33 lead. His blocked shot essentially triggered a five-point swing.
"It's the first time he's come out and stepped up," Lincoln said. "He didn't choke or anything. It's going to make the other boys want to step up like John did.
"He wanted to win. He wanted that W."
Chakuchin finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds to earn Player of the Game honors, a popular choice based on the reaction of his teammates. Pitka, Toksook Bay's only senior, finished with a game-high 20 points, and Isaiah Pitka, one of seven sophomores, added seven points and six rebounds.
Seldovia is as young or younger than the Islanders -- its eight-man roster includes no seniors, four juniors and a freshman. Aidan Philpot, a 6-foot sophomore, led the Sea Otters with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Janes said he watched Klawock in last year's championship game "and I said that's where we want to be." He put together a tough schedule, with games against Class 3A teams like Cordova and Nikiski, with the hope of toughening and seasoning his team.
"We're certainly hoping (to be back), but we've also got a tough conference, so there is no guarantee we'll be back," Janes said. "But you've gotta have that goal."
Klawock 70, Shaktoolik 54
Tyrus Morgan's monster game of 31 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks carried the Chieftains back into the championship game with a 70-54 win over Shaktoolik.
Morgan, a 6-foot-4 senior, hit 13 of 19 shots from the field and grabbed half of his rebounds off the offensive glass.
Klawock, which outrebounded the Wolverines 51-19, also got a boost from Matthew Peters (16 points before fouling out), Sam Rew (12 points, 7 assists) and Josh Looney (11 rebounds).
Veron Rock and Everson Paniptchuk scored 16 points apiece for Shaktoolik and Rock added nine rebounds. Melvin Hunt chipped in 12 points.
Wainwright held off Yakutat and Fort Yukon cruised past New Stuyahok in consolation-round games at Sullivan Arena.
Wainwright edged Yakutat 55-52 behind big games from twins Brenton and Burton Nayakik. Brenton amassed 19 points and 13 rebounds and Burton poured in 18 points and handed out eight assists.
Kalani Russell was the game's leading scorer with 28 points for Yakutat. He buried eight of 13 shots from 3-point range.
In Fort Yukon's 62-26 win over New Stuyahok, 10 players scored and eight collected rebounds. Jerry Carroll (14 points, 8 rebounds), Franklin Carroll (12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) and Aaron Solomon (11 points, 11 rebounds) led the Eagles.
Darren Hanson (11 points) and Donald Apokedak (13 rebounds) paced New Stuyahok.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG