Early in the fourth quarter of the Class 2A girls championship game, Dillingham's Tiera Schroeder and Unalakleet's Jonisha Wilson crashed to the floor in pursuit of the ball. They wrestled for possession for a long moment, their bodies entangled, their faces taut, their effort unimpeded by whatever pain one inflicted on the other.
It was a moment that defined a title game short on points but long on grit. Dillingham pulled out a 30-21 victory in a game in which few baskets came easily and defense ruled the day.
"it was a very physical, tough game," Unalakleet coach Peter Johnsen said.
The Wolverines had waited a year for this game, ever since losing last season's championship game to Craig in a similarly low-scoring contest, 31-29.
"We came in fighting," Schroeder said. "We didn't want another disappointment."
Dillingham triumphed by holding Unalakleet to a single basket in the fourth quarter, but it was a defensive battle all the way.
The teams combined for 21 points in the first half -- Unalakleet led 12-9 -- and as brutal as that sounds, it was not a bad 16 minutes of basketball. There were just 12 turnovers, and most of those were the result of pressure defense, not poor ball-handling. And though neither team shot well, it wasn't because players were taking ill-advised shots, it was because they were closely defended.
"That's a very good defensive team," Johnsen said of Dillingham. "There were also some state-championship jitters in there -- this was our first time and it was their second time."
If Dillingham wasn't still stinging from last year's setback, it was certainly motivated by it. Schroeder is one of five seniors on the team, and she said the group was determined to go out on top.
"We said, 'It's our last game, this is it,' " she said. "It's now or never. This is our time."
Given the night's toughest defensive assignment, Schroeder battled all game with Wilson, Unalakaleet's heady guard who is a heady on-court leader.
Wilson was the only scorer to reach double figures with 13 points. She beat the Dillingham defense a couple of times for short jumpers in the lane, but often she was limited to putting up long-range shots, especially in the fourth quarter when Dillingham's defense was nearly impenetrable.
Dillingham led 19-18 after three quarters and made it 21-18 on the first possession of the fourth quarter when Schroeder scored a layup.
Wilson tied it with a 3-pointer at the 7:14 mark but those were the last points for the Wolf Pack, who managed only eight field goal attempts after that.
Drew Carlos and Schroeder scored nine and eight points, respectively, to spark Dillingham offensively. Carlos added seven rebounds in her final high school game, including a big offensive board that she converted for a 26-21 lead with 3:50 to play. After that, Dillingham spread its offense and managed to take nearly two minutes off the clock on its next two possessions.
With 48 seconds left, Carlos, stationed near her team's basket, caught a court-length pass from Schroeder for an uncontested layup that sealed the victory. The play left the two seniors beaming.
"It's their last year," Dillingham coach Sean Carlos said. "They wanted to go out with a bang."
Alecia Henderson blocked Craig's final shot to preserve Metlakatla's 44-42 win in the third-place game.
Holly Guthrie sank two free throws to give Metlakatla a 44-39 lead with about a minute left, but Craig answered with a 3-point from Marie Yates to make it 44-42 with 30 seconds left. Henderson's game-saving block came 10 seconds later.
Guthrie finished with 15 points and Henderson 13. Monica Hayward's five steals helped the MissChiefs force many of Craig's 20 turnovers.
Maggie Dinon led all scorers with 21 points for Craig, which trailed 10-3 after the first quarter. Yates wound up with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Lexus Martin's 11 points and Kendall Maslin's 10 points helped Glennallen claim fourth place with a 31-26 win over Nenana.
Theresa Long led Nenana in scoring with eight points and Edna Standifer came up with nine steals.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG