For the first time in history, the Scammon Bay girls basketball team will play in the state championship game, and the team's coach says the Eagles are where they are because they never stop running.
Clearly the coach wasn't paying attention Friday night.
Three times during Scammon Bay's 68-50 triumph over Buckland in the semifinals of the Class 1A tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center, Kiah Charlie stopped to tie a shoelace. And those three moments were about the only time the Sissauni weren't being swarmed by all five Scammon Bay players.
The Eagles pressed Buckland the entire game, a style that resulted in 13 steals for the Eagles and 18 turnovers for the Sissauni.
Scammon Bay scored several times in transition, and when the Eagles weren't getting fast-break points, they were hitting from long-range — 12 of their 26 shots from 3-point range were good.
The win puts Scammon Bay in Saturday's 1:30 p.m. title game against defending state champion Wainwright. The Huskies beat Aniak 45-32 in Friday's other semifinal to earn a return trip to the championship game.?
Charlie, a 5-foot-5 junior, racked up 15 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals to lead the Eagles.
She was especially hot in the second quarter, when she scored 11 points — including seven in a 10-0 run in the quarter's first two minutes. That made up for the first quarter, when she didn't score a point.
"Nerves," she said of her scoreless start. "'Cause it was such a big game. It was to see who is in the state championship."
Making it to the title game is a big thing for any school, but it seems particularly important for a small village like Scammon Bay.
"It means a lot," Charlie said, "because Scammon Bay is very small and (basketball is) everything."
"It's what kids do in the village," added head coach Herschel Sundown. "Aside from chores and subsistence, it's what they do. It becomes a way of life."
Sundown said the group playing for the state championship have been playing together since elementary school. The Eagles made it to state for the first time last year but lost their play-in game and didn't make it to the eight-team showcase tournament. They started this year with grander plans.
"We had a sit-down at the beginning of the year and we listed our goals, and the No. 1 goal was the state championship," Sundown said. "It all starts with believing, and our girls believe."
Their other preseason goals, he said, were "teamwork, more communication and defense," giving extra emphasis to the word defense.
"What we want to do is separate ourselves from everybody else," Sundown said. "We shake it up with continuous trapping and the press. Our kids press non-stop, from the first game of the season. Even as little kids I made them press.
"They never stop running."
Six Scammon Bay players registered steals and four scored in double figures. Megan Simon matched Charlie with 15 point, and Kendra Charlie and Almira Kaganak each tossed in 10 points.
Kylah Melton's 16 points and Sarah Washington's 10 points and eight rebounds led Buckland.
Down 50-37 after three quarters, Melton scored five quick points to bring Buckland within eight points early in the fourth quarter, 50-42. But Scammon Bay responded with a 10-0 run that took 3:30 off the clock and gave the Eagles a 60-42 lead. The Eagles never trailed by single digits after that.
Wainwright 45, Aniak 32
Kai Nashookpuk finished what she started Friday night.
Nashookpuk scored the first point of Wainwright's victory when she sank a free throw before the game even started — Aniak was called for a technical because of a uniform violation.
Then, with time running out in the fourth quarter, Nashookpuk canned a 3-pointer to complete an 8-0 run by the Huskies.
In between, the senior piled up 16 more points to finish with a game-high 20 to help put her team back in the championship game.
"She's a natural-born leader," Wainwright coach Edna Ahmaogak said. She's also a natural-born player — her sister JoJo helped Wainwright to the 2009 state title, and now Kai has a chance to win another championship for the family.
The low-scoring game heated up at the end, as did the Halfbreeds. Aniak trailed 9-4 after the first quarter, 22-10 at the half and 32-19 after the third quarter, and it was down by 15 early in the fourth quarter.
The Halfbreeds scored the next 10 points, and halfway through the quarter it was suddenly a five-point game, 37-32. That's when Ahmaogak had a little talk with her players.
"I reminded the girls to stay positive, to stay focused," she said. "They know the basics of defense, and they know if they can be consistent with that and consistent with the offense, things should fall into place."
Which they did. The Huskies didn't give up another point while scoring eight straight points, six by Nashookpuk.
Nashookpuk tallied a double-double with 11 rebounds and dished four assists. Molly Nayakik provided 14 points, four assists, four rebounds and three steals, Jenysa Ahmaogak added six points and six rebounds and Mattie Panik grabbed 11 rebounds and four steals.
Aniak got a double-double from Kayla Morgan — 15 points, 15 rebounds — and Tierra Wolf furnished 10 points and eight rebounds.
Wainwright will be playing for their fourth state title and their third in eight years. But Ahmaogak said the Huskies will treat Saturday's game like it's their first shot at a championship.
"Every year is a new team," she said. "Because Wainwright has had a strong girls team for many years, the expectations are always there, but each year the girls have to work hard. I don't take anything for granted."