(This story originally appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on March 25, 2001.)
It’s been ages since Kodiak celebrated its last boys basketball championship in 1952.
And the Sullivan Arena couldn't contain the town Saturday night when the Bears and defending champion East put on a game for the ages in the Class 4A boys title showdown.
Sparked by a second-half run that erased a nine-point halftime deficit, top-ranked Kodiak capped an unbeaten season with a 55-52 win over the second-ranked Thunderbirds.
When a desperate three-pointer by East’s G.J. Macon fell short at the final buzzer, the hundreds of Kodiak fans who flew to Anchorage poured onto the court in a wild celebration that carried their heroes across the arena floor.
The state title is the first for the Kodiak boys since the state tournament was sanctioned in 1959.
''This is absolutely amazing, '' said Curtis Mortenson, who opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back baskets that gave Kodiak the lead for good. ''(Teammate) Tim LeDoux and I used to play in his gym at home in second grade pretending we were playing for the state championship.
''It's hard to believe it's happened.''
Equally unbelievable was the pace of the game, a 32-minute highlight reel in which each team threw its best knockout punch without finishing off the other. Kodiak may have walked away with the champion's trophy, but there were 4,000 winners inside the arena on this night.
The Bears (28-0) had been led all year by the odd pairing of 6-foot-11 senior Nick Billings and 5-5 senior point guard Geoffrey Agmata.
Both delivered on Saturday -- Billings finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots; Agmata with nine points on three 3-pointers and an end-to-end harassment of East’s taller guards.
But it was the contributions of some lesser lights that lifted Kodiak to the title after East (22-5) used a half-court press to forge a 26-16 lead midway through the second quarter.
Phil Nisbett, a 5-9 forward, added 12 points and five rebounds, and Mortenson, who did not even attempt a shot in Kodiak's semifinal win over Chugiak a night earlier, finished with a game-high 15 points.
''It's not just one person, '' said Billings. ''This was a whole team effort.''
After the second of Mortenson's baskets to start the fourth quarter, Nisbett drove the baseline for a score that gave Kodiak its biggest lead at 49-43 with 4:33 to go.
The teams then traded baskets before Macon followed up a Yannick Evina-Ze putback with a steal and layup that cut Kodiak's lead to 53-52. Nisbett responded with two free throws with 21 seconds left and the crowd roaring, setting up East's final charge.
After a timeout, the ball went to East senior guard Ricky Brown (12 points) along the left sideline. His 3-point attempt bounced high, and Macon came out of the scramble with the ball. He dribbled back behind the 3-point line in the left corner and turned for a hurried shot that sailed low and right into the hands of Billings as time expired and the fans swarmed the floor.
East and Kodiak wasted little time getting the crowd involved, putting on an above-the-rim highlight display. Billings drew roars from the Kodiak faithful with each blocked shot, and East fans responded when Evina-Ze got behind Billings to throw down two monster dunks.
After the teams played to a 16-16 first quarter, East gained some breathing room by unveiling a half-court trap and embarking on a 10-0 run to open the second period.
Evina-Ze, the 6-7 East center whose first shot was soundly rejected by Billings, matched Mortenson for scoring honors with 15 points, including nine in the first half as the Thunderbirds took a 32-23 halftime lead.
But Kodiak gave the T-birds a dose of their own medicine in the second half. Led by the play of the frenetic Agmata, the Bears coaxed East into five third-quarter turnovers and charged back with an 11-4 run to end the period, briefly taking a 42-41 lead when Billings drove the lane and slammed home a dunk that lifted the crowd to its feet.
''I felt like we were in control at halftime, '' East coach Geno Morgan said. ''I felt if we could get one run (in the third quarter) we could put it away. We never made that run, and then Kodiak did.''
East moved back ahead 43-42 entering the fourth quarter, but that's when Mortenson took over.
''We wanted to contain Billings and Agmata, and maybe let someone else step up for them, '' Morgan said. ''And they stepped up.''
At the end, the Kodiak fans who poured onto the floor lifted their players onto their shoulders. For the previous 32 minutes, the players had carried an entire community on theirs.
Kodiak 55, East 52
EAST (52) -- St. Moss 2 2-4 6; Miller 3 2-4 8; Laws 0 0-0 0; Brown 5 0-0 12; Macon 4 2-3 11; Evina-Ze 6 3-4 15; Marriage 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 9-15 52.
KODIAK (55) -- Nisbett 5 2-2 12; Geo. Agmata 3 0-0 9; Al. Agmata 0 0-0 0; Mortenson 5 2-2 15; Baile 1 0-0 2; Kinsley 0 0-0 0; LeDoux 1 1-2 3; Billings 6 2-3 14. Totals 21 7-9 55.
Total fouls -- East 12, Kodiak 14. Fouled out -- None. Three-point goals -- Brown 2, Macon, Geo. Agmata 3, Mortenson 3.
East 16 16 11 9 -- 52
Kodiak 16 7 19 13 -- 55