The Cook Inlet Conference regional tournament wrapped up at West High on Saturday, and the top seeds in both the boys and girls divisions prevailed in the finals to claim titles.
The top-seeded Dimond boys pulled off a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in five years by defeating perennial powerhouse and No. 2 seed Bettye Davis East three times in a row. The Lynx head into the 4A state tournament on a seven-game winning streak after a commanding 60-39 victory Saturday.
“Coach likes to say that we’re the hunters, not the hunted, so we just want to go out there and kill it,” said senior Malachi Casey, who scored 15 points in the win.
Ironically, the last team to accomplish the task was the Lynx during the 2017-18 season, when they topped East four times including postseason play.
Since both teams qualified for state by making the tournament finals, there’s a chance that this year’s Dimond team can do the same and end their five-year title drought.
“We hoping to see them in state and see them a fourth time,” said senior Luke Johnston, who led the team with 16 points.
Unlike their two regular-season matchups, which went down to the wire, on Saturday night the Lynx dominated for the vast majority of the game, extending their lead with each quarter that passed.
“We started really slow against West (on Friday) and dug ourselves a hole, so we prided ourselves on coming out hot early, building up a lead and never looking back,” Johnston said.
The Lynx led by six at the end of the first, by 11 at halftime and by 19 at the end of the third before going on to win by 21.
Senior Xzavier Baker — who finished with 10 points, made the all-tournament team and was named conference MVP — believes that Dimond is poised to make a run at a state title. But he knows nothing is guaranteed.
“The message for everybody is no matter how high of a ranking you are, you still have to work,” he said. “You can get beat any night if they work harder than you. Just because you have the highest ranking, doesn’t mean you can’t get beat. You have to show why you’re No. 1.”
West girls defeat Dimond to win another regional title
The top-seeded Eagles finished the season undefeated on their home court by avenging their only loss to an in-state opponent all season with a decisive 46-42 victory against the second-seeded Lynx.
“It feels good,” West girls coach Charlie Engel said. “For us it was a good chance to see within ourselves and see if we could really tough it out.”
Dimond hosted and bested West 58-50 in the regular-season finale for both teams on March 3.
[Dimond High girls basketball snaps win streak of rival West to close out regular season]
Even though the humbling defeat snapped their 16-game winning streak, it was just the wake-up call the Eagles needed.
“It did wake us up because we were mad after that,” said sophomore Tonya Karpow, who led the team with a game-high 18 points. “We wanted to come back and get them.”
While they never held more than a 10-point advantage on the scoreboard, West felt firmly in control for most of the game and didn’t lose composure when Dimond tried to make things interesting in the final minutes.
“We went into a little huddle at the end when they were shooting free throws and said, ‘No more fouls, keep it straight and win this game,’ ” Karpow said.
West boys win thriller over Service
Arguably the most exciting game of the day was the battle for third place in the boys division between the fourth-seeded Eagles and the third-seeded Cougars. The game went into overtime and was won by West 54-48.
“We had to come to together, play strong, and play hard,” junior Des’laone Cook said. “We were playing our hearts out.”
The Eagles mounted a late comeback after losing an early lead that resulted in them tying the game 45-45 with .9 seconds left on the clock after Cook knocked down a clutch 3-pointer.
He wasn’t done. Cook went on to score five of the team’s nine points in overtime to win the final game of the season on their home court.
“I just thought I had to take over and make sure we didn’t go home tonight,” Cook said.
Even though they finished third in what is widely believed as the best 4A boys conference in the state, there is no guarantee the Eagles have clinched the at-large berth in the 2023 state tournament.
If they do wind up making it, Cook has faith his team also has what it takes to go the distance and win its first title since 2015.
“It’d mean everything,” he said. “Hopefully we get in there.”
Girls CIC All-Conference Team
Coach of the Year: Charlie Schultz, Chugiak
Player of the Year: Malie Wilcox, Dimond
Malie Wilcox, Dimond
Jordan Zackery, West
Olivia Heartwell, South
Kali Hibbert, Dimond
Sky Alexander, Chugiak
Tonya Karpow, West
Avaya Stoute, Bartlett
Lelei Mose, Service
Evan Murphy, Dimond
Jamariea Jackson, Bartlett
Avi Stoute, Bartlett
Italia Fraize, Chugiak
Octavia Knox, Chugiak
Re’Zhanai Wyche, West
Jayla Speakman, West
Ciznne Mendoza, East
Boys CIC All-Conference Team
Coach of the Year: Jocquis Sconiers, Service
CIC Most Valuable Player: Xzavier Baker, Dimond
Xzavier Baker, Dimond
Luke Johnston, Dimond
Akeem Sulaima, East
Muhammad Sabally, East
Willie Zamora, West
Julius Adlawan, West
Mackeenan Morgan, Service
JP Castillo, South
Maguire Hamey, Dimond
Anders Larson, Chugiak
Deshawn Rushmeyer, East
Leyton Lockard, Service
Axel Carpil, East
Marek Hajdukovich, Dimond
Lok Kulang, Bartlett
South 58, Eagle River 45
Bartlett 62, Chugiak 35
Service 48, Bartlett 37
West 61, South 60 (OT)
East 45, Service 44
Dimond 58, West 56
West 54, Service 48 (OT)
Dimond 60, East 39
Bartlett 38, Eagle River 27
Service 42, East 37
Chugiak 34, Service 27
South 41, Bartlett 27
Dimond 33, Chugiak 27
West 52, South 35
Chugiak 51, South 47
West 46, Dimond 42