Monroe has won all 28 of its games this season and is unbeaten in 48 games going back to last season. The Rams have appeared in four straight Class 3A boys state basketball championships.
On Saturday, Monroe added another accomplishment to its resume and another award to its trophy case. The Rams defeated Grace Christian 58-47 to become the first 3A boys team win three consecutive state titles since classifications were adopted in 1983.
"It feels amazing," said Tyler Wells, one of seven Monroe seniors.
Playing with a tight-knit Rams team the past four years makes his third state title even more special, senior Scooter Bynum said.
"I wouldn't want to do it with any other group," he said. "We worked hard for it. We deserve it."
This year's trip to the title was difficult, Monroe coach Frank Ostanik said. The Rams faced three tough teams in Nome, Anchorage Christian and Grace, he said.
"It was an extraordinary challenge," Ostanik said.
Monroe had the added pressure of being the favorite. As they have all season, the Rams took the state tournament a game at a time, Bynum said.
"We went into every game thinking we need to bring it," he said.
The Rams are coachable, tough and love one another, Ostanik said, attributes that make Monroe the best team he's seen.
"They're the greatest embodiment of teamwork," he said.
That's what made Saturday bittersweet for Ostanik - it marked the final game coaching this particular squad.
"It's a great day but it's an extraordinarily sad day," he said.
Trailing 24-21, Grace opened the second half on an 11-0 run thanks to three treys from Hans Karlberg. Monroe responded with seven straight points to make it 32-31 Grace. Tied 34-34, the Rams went on a 10-2 run in the final two minutes of the third quarter to take an eight-point lead into the fourth. The Grizzlies never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
The Rams didn't let the Grizzlies fast second-half start rattle them, Wells said.
"We just had a good response," he said. "All of us stayed positive."
They've done that all season, Ostanik said.
"Our kids just never panic," he said.
Half of Monroe's 20 third-quarter points came from junior Jalon McCullough. McCullough finished with a game-high 23 points, 15 of which came from beyond the arc.
"He just broke out hearts," Grace coach Chuck Boerger said.
Monroe shot an impressive 70.6 percent from the field in the second half and 48.7 percent for the game. Grace also shot well, 50 percent from the field, but its 17 turnovers were too many against a talented Rams team, Boerger said.
"They handle the ball so well," he said. "To beat these guys you have to play perfect."
Boerger attributed some of those turnovers to fatigue.
"They're faster and stronger," he said of Monroe.
The Grizzlies weren't lacking effort, said Boerger, who coached his final game Saturday after nine years at Grace and 21 total in Alaska.
"I'm proud of our players," he said. "They played really hard."
Monroe isn't just the top 3A team in the state, it's one of the best, if not the best, among all classifications. This season Monroe played seven of the eight 4A teams who made state -- and defeated all of them by double digits.
Monroe found itself in some of the closest games its played all year at state. The Rams have trailed in the second half just twice all season, Ostanik said, in Friday's semifinal and Saturday's championship.
As they have throughout their winning streak, the Rams persevered to notch their 48th consecutive win and third state crown, Bynum said.
"We battled through adversity," he said. "That's a key characteristic of champions."
ACS 70, Bethel 60
Sparked by 26 points from Levi Auble, Anchorage Christian downed Bethel 70-60.
The Lions, who led after every quarter, outscored Bethel 20-13 in the fourth to seal the victory. ACS, which finished second the past two seasons, got a 19-point effort from Calvin Hoffman and Nathan Simmers supplied 14 points.
Theodore Naneng erupted for a game-high 41 points and accounted for 68 percent of Bethel's offense. The Warriors committed 17 turnovers, which translated into 24 points for ACS.
Fourth place game
Nome 60, Sitka 51
Tyler Eide pumped in 20 points to lead Nome past Sitka 60-51. Cass Mattheis added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Nanooks, who got 11 points from Klay Baker.
Brian Way racked up a game-high 27 points for Sitka, which got 16 from Tevan Bayne.
Reach Mike Nesper at email@example.com or 257-4335
By MIKE NESPER