PALMER -- In such unprecedented times, take a few extra moments to reflect on the kind of history made Saturday night by the East and Chugiak high school boys basketball teams.
Behind blistering performances from senior Hasaan Herrington and junior Daion Doughty, the Thunderbirds cruised to their eye-popping 17th state championship. They finished 17-0 with an 82-56 win over Cook Inlet Conference rival Chugiak in the Class 4A title game at Palmer High School.
Chugiak also made a mark on the 2020-21 season by advancing to the title game for the first time in 15 years and the fourth time in school history.
And how about this? East’s Damarion Delaney, Duece Zimmerman, Kyler Johnson, Ja’Sem Atonio and Elijah Reed went pandemic perfect. The quintet won every basketball and football contest they suited up for this school year -- a tidy 24 wins and zero losses.
“So many of us east-side kids are dedicated to the game and want to listen to our coaches,” said Delaney, whose last team loss was more than 400 days ago, when the basketball team lost to Colony on Feb. 8, 2020. “We stay locked in from the beginning to end.
“It means a lot.”
The football five, who combined for 17 points Saturday, helped the football team cruise to an unbeaten finish with a 41-0 win over Bartlett in the Oct. 23 Anchorage School District championship game.
A silky-smooth lefty, Atonio brilliantly quarterbacked that team. He stepped briefly on the court Saturday, drilling a three-pointer from the top of the key with 42.6 seconds remaining.
“I’m on top of the world,” he said of his brief championship appearance. “It means everything to me to get out there and share the moment with all the guys. We all worked so hard.
“One word to sum it up is unbelievable.”
No problem describing Herrington in similar fashion. The 6-foot-2 star scored 12 points in the first half and finished with a game-high 19 points in 18 minutes, 30 seconds of playing time.
While the Thunderbirds revolved around Herrington’s skill, almost everyone got involved. Doughty scored 10 second-quarter points on the way to 17 total and added five assists and three steals, Sellers totaled 11 points and nine rebounds, Jayden Voliva had 12 points and six rebounds, and Delaney added eight points, four assists and three steals.
East outscored Chugiak 48-31 in the middle two quarters, and creating open looks was never much of a problem.
“East has athletes and are so athletic from top to bottom. They are so deep and have so many kids that can play at a high level,” said Josi Schultz, the third-year Chugiak coach who is the second woman to guide a boys team to a Class 4A boys championship game (in 2001, Amy Rakers coached Kodiak to the 4A title).
Jackson Wall, one of eight seniors, led the Mustangs with 18 points. Owen Lewis added 12 and Kellen Beam had 11.
Chugiak missed its first few shots and couldn’t recover, shooting 36% from the floor to East’s scorching 61%.
The Mustangs finished the season 12-5 with four of the losses coming to the Thunderbirds by an average 22 points.
The Mustangs struggled to match up with East, and few basketball followers around the state likely figured a state championship appearance -- the school’s first since 2006 -- was in the offing for them.
“These guys have a lot of heart and bought into a system that has them believing in each other,” said Schultz. “They loved each other from the beginning.
“When you have kids that don’t care who gets credit or who’s the highest scorer, special things are going to happen.”
Over at East, basketball is a special thing. The Thunderbirds first secured state supremacy in 1970, and since then they’ve won 16 more championships -- roughly one every three years.
“It is a legacy on the east side,” Delaney said. “We’re blessed to be a part of that.”
Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” radio show, Saturdays at 11 a.m. on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7 (@cbssports590). Find him on social media at @MNevala9.
ASAA/First National Bank Alaska
March Madness Alaska
Hasaan Herrington, East Anchorage
Owen Lewis, Chugiak
Patrick McMahon, Colony
Stewart Erhart, West Valley
Tyler Slick, Ketchikan
Reece Ivanoff, South Anchorage
Traivar Jackson, West Anchorage
Jahbez Sellers, East Anchorage
Jackson Wall, Chugiak
Jayden Voliva, East Anchorage