The two seniors on the Lumen Christi girls basketball team admitted nerves were starting to percolate through the roster as the Archangels’ double-digit lead slowly shrank Saturday in Alaska’s 1A championship game.
But Lumen Christi hung on with help from some late defensive stands and dribbled out the final seconds to earn a 32-30 win over Shaktoolik, securing the first state title in program history.
“I think our nerves got ahold of us for a second,” senior Natalie Grubba said. “But we kept working together as a team and were able to see the goal ahead.”
The team piled onto the court in celebration when the final buzzer sounded in a mix of joy and relief.
“When it’s a close game like that, it gets your heart racing and it kind of just makes it feel more real when you win it at the end,” said senior Emily Ross, who led all scorers with 16 points.
Despite the tense moments late, Lumen Christi head coach Kenny Barker said the team relied on experience from tight games early in the season as they inched closer to a title.
“(The feeling was) excitement,” he said. “We’ve already been through some of those games and already experienced that, so we worked through it at the beginning of the season. At that point, we’re close to the win so it’s exciting to go get that.”
The Archangels led by 12 entering the final quarter and still held a double-digit lead with four minutes left in the game. But the Shaktoolik girls slowly started to chip away, scoring on a variety of drives to the basket.
Kayleigh Sagoonick converted a 3-point play on a drive to the basket with 3:08 remaining, cutting the Lumen Christi lead to just 30-25 after the free throw. Lilly Muller extended the Lumen lead to 32-25 with her only basket of the game. But Autumn Curtis made it 32-27 with a basket and with just 48 seconds remaining, Sagoonick converted another 3-point play to bring the Wolverines to within two at 32-30.
“We talked about how it’s not over until that last whistle blows,” Shaktoolik head coach Stacey Paniptchuk said. “We’re going to keep giving it our all.”
But Shaktoolik wasn’t able to tie the game with its possession in the final minute. The Wolverines hoped to get one more crack at it, but Lumen Christi’s Amara Williams rebounded her own missed free throw in the final 10 seconds and dribbled out the clock.
Lumen Christi led 15-12 at half and pulled away in the third quarter with a 9-0 run.
“We really got a lot of momentum in the third quarter,” Grubba said. “We saw what needed to be done and executed it.”
It was the second straight game where the team had put together a big run coming out of halftime.
“That’s basketball,” Barker said. “You come into the game, figure out what’s going on and how the rhythm of the game is. Once you get that information you can make a plan.”
Shaktoolik only managed 16 points over the first three quarters as the Archangels effectively denied the ball to the wings.
“We knew they’re a strong team from the 3-point line,” Ross said. “We knew we could shut that down as much as possible if we stayed in front of them and played really hard defense. I’d say that’s why we won.”
That defense was especially effective in the first half, when Shaktoolik only shot 21 percent from the floor.
“Our defense is definitely the best part of this team and something we take pride in,” Grubba said.
The championship was especially satisfying for Ross and Grubba, the team’s two seniors.
“We’ve been playing together since we’ve been in seventh grade for Lumen Christi and this is the cap of that six years,” Ross said. “It’s like, wow.”
Sagoonick finished with 11 points to lead the Wolverines, who were also looking for their first state title in team history. Curtis added six.
Grubba finished with eight points and Amara Warren added six.
Like Lumen Christi, Shaktoolik only has two seniors and is a strong candidate to return to state tournaments in the future.
“We’ve got seven (junior high) girls coming up next year,” Paniptchuk said. “We’ve got some stuff to look forward to. We’re just going to keep working.”
1A Girls State Basketball Tournament
Lumen Christi 32, Shaktoolik 30
Buckland 53, Cook Inlet Academy 47
Newhalen 46, Tanalian 32
Klawock 63, Walter Northway 52