PALMER -- The Hooper Bay Warriors came up with a last-second steal to emerge victorious in the Class 2A girls state basketball championship game Saturday night at Palmer High.
In a turnover-riddled game that featured several ties and multiple lead changes, the Warriors came away with a 36-32 win to secure the school’s first girls basketball championship.
“It’s a big deal for the girls and for our community,” coach Brandi Hale said. “I told them that we will win it all one day if they believe in themselves.”
The two teams combined for 48 turnovers. The Warriors had 25 of them, but it was the one they were able to force late that proved to be the deciding factor.
Holding onto a two-point lead inside the final minute, the Warriors thwarted Su Valley’s last-ditch effort to tie the game yet again and avoided overtime thanks to sophomore Joan Bell, who came up with a steal with 11 seconds left on the clock.
“Our coach tells us that when we’re going to pass the ball to someone, don’t look at them, look the opposite way,” Bell said. “She was looking straight at (her intender target) and I just knew she was going to pass it to her so I waited and when she threw it, I jumped and got it.”
Hooper Bay extended its lead to four points after an intentional foul sent senior Mary Long to the free throw line. She sank both shots and by the time Su Valley was ready to inbound the ball, time expired.
Hooper Bay fans spilled onto the court to celebrate with the Warriors.
“Everybody is proud of us over there. I can feel it,” Bell said.
Hooper Bay played most of the second half without senior star Zoey Lake, who got into foul trouble early in the third quarter. Lake still led the Warriors with 14 points, all of them coming in the first half.
Lake is one of eight seniors on the team, and Hale has been working with them all since becoming the coach three years ago.
“I trust in the girls and the girls trust each other,” Hale said. “As much as Zoey is a key player to us, I’m proud of the girls that stepped up.”
Hooper Bay outscored Su Valley 12-3 from 3-point range and 8-3 from the free throw line. Long was 4 of 5 from the foul line en route to eight total points, and senior Benise Tall added six points, six assists and four rebounds.
Kenna Grenier netted 13 points and Alana Barron added seven points and six rebounds for Su Valley, which was vying for its first state title.
The game started with three scoreless minutes, and then Su Valley jumped to a 6-0 lead. Hooper Bay went on an 8-2 run sparked by a pair of wide-open 3-pointers to the game 8-8 after one quarter.
The teams traded baskets in the second quarter to go into halftime tied 19-19. The second half was more of the same, with no one leading by more than four points.
Senior Benise Tall gave the Warriors a 33-32 lead with a free throw with 52 seconds left and Long added a free throw with 28 seconds left to extend the lead to 34-32. Bell got the clutch steal on Su Valley’s ensuing possession and the rest is history.
“I knew we were going to win state,” Lake said. “I believed in all my girls. We fought so hard and we totally deserve it.”
ASAA March Madness Alaska
Class 2A girls all-tournament team
Hakey Ulroan, Chevak
Kenna Grenier, Su Valley
CeAnika Palacios, Glennallen
Mary Long, Hooper Bay
Jayden Lane, Tikigaq
India Roderick, Su Valley
Zoey Lake, Hooper Bay
Lena Ivanoff, Unalakleet
Victoria Fisher, Unalakleet
Alana Barron, Su Valley