With 16 teams vying for state supremacy, Saturday’s opening day of the Class 1A boys state tournament served as more of a qualifying round. The eight winning teams would be sorted into the three-day championship bracket, while the other eight losing teams would be relegated to the consolation bracket, their hopes of a state title gone.
March Madness indeed.
Fortunately for the Seldovia boys, they got past that hurdle without too much drama, grabbing a 67-47 win over Kotlik at the Wells Fargo gym in Anchorage to secure a spot in the winner’s bracket.
The Sea Otters picked up where they left off at last week’s Peninsula Conference tournament to set up a Monday afternoon quarterfinal matchup with Manokotak at 1 p.m. in the Sullivan Arena.
Junior guard Aidan Philpot led Seldovia with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting and 12 rebounds. Junior Calem Collier added 15 points (including a perfect 5-for-5 on two-point shots) and 12 boards and senior Seth O’Leary scored 17.
Seldovia coach Mark Janes orchestrated Saturday’s effort and said he thought the matchup was just what he was hoping for.
“Keep it moving, spread the defense,” Janes said. “That’s what we try to do.”
Janes said O’Leary, who proved to be particularly dangerous in the paint, kept the Sea Otters with a comfortable lead when they needed it. O’Leary scored six points himself in an 8-0 Seldovia run midway through the third quarter that helped break the game open.
“The thing with Seth is he’s got a hair trigger and he goes down low and gets that ball up,” Janes said. “He doesn’t wait, doesn’t size anything up. He may get hammered, he may get blocked, but more times than not, the ball gets to the rim.”
Kotlik, the No. 2 seed out of the Yukon Delta conference, featured a starting lineup of bigger, huskier players and a run-and-gun style of play that suited the Falcons in the opening minutes. Led by senior guard Lewis Okitkun, the Falcons staked out an early 8-3 lead with a particularly lethal offense that was characterized by beating Seldovia on breakaways. Okitkun ended with 18 points to lead Kotlik.
However, after the first few minutes, Seldovia began to clamp down on defense — particularly on keeping an eye on which player was breaking away early for a transition bucket — and took its first lead with 3:15 to go in the first quarter on a midrange jumper by Philpot, putting Seldovia up 11-10.
“We played a little more disciplined after they came out and punched us in the chops,” Janes said. “They got a couple easy buckets but we were able to get focused and play our game.”
Tied at 17 apiece after one quarter, the Otters proceeded to score 12 unanswered points in the first 4:09 of the second frame to grab a 29-17 lead, a run that was capped by a perfectly executed one-on-one block by Collier on Okitkun, who then dribbled the ball down the full length of the court for a driving layup.
Okitkun also found himself in foul trouble rather early, being tagged with his third before the first half was over. He was hit with a fourth foul late in the third quarter, but never fouled out completely.
With Okitkun getting a lot of time on the bench — which was also due to a few spills he took in which he came up limping — Seldovia was free to pile up the points from midrange jumpers to driving layups. 6-foot-2 senior Juwan Akaran laid in a bucket just over a minute into the second half that closed the gap to 15 points, but the Otters answered with eight straight points for a 47-24 lead, and were never seriously threatened again.
Janes said he plans on using today’s rest day for all the teams accordingly.
“Just stay relaxed, that’s the key,” Janes said. “If we get too tight, and start worrying about the next guy too much, things fall apart.”
Nikolaevsk boys 50,
After a first-round loss at last year’s big dance, the Warrior boys took a tip from the Nikolaevsk girls and advanced into the winner’s bracket without too much worrying.
Nikolaevsk started fast and never looked back Saturday at the Alaska Airlines Center, earning a win that advanced them to a quarterfinal matchup with Angoon, Monday night at 8:30 p.m. at the Sullivan Arena.
Nikolaevsk coach Steve Klaich said he believes the difference from last year is the absence of rookie nerves.
“I’m thrilled,” Klaich said. “The kids’ experience from last year is paying off, and being on the winner’s side of the bracket is one huge step in the right direction.”
Junior forward Jonah Fefelov led the Warriors with 19 points, while junior big man Neil Gordeev netted 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting and brought down 17 boards.
Klaich said when Gordeev is able to get position on opposing players, like he did Saturday, he is deadly.
“Between rebounds and blocked shots, he’s huge,” Klaich said. “When he has a monster rebounding game, we do well. He has a lot of skills offensively, but challenging shots on the other end help our case.”
Klaich also added that he is pleased to see the selflessness of his squad paying dividends, as no one player shone above the rest. With efficient ball movement, Nikolaevsk shot 42 percent overall.
“When they announced the player of the game, I had no idea who it would be,” Klaich said. “All five starters played well enough to deserve it.”
No matter who the player of the game is, Klaich said this team is a different squad from the starry-eyed team of last year, the first Nikolaevsk boys team to make the trip to state in 17 years.
However, they had to contend with Noorvik’s biggest threats, namely post stalwart Quinn Williamson and sharpshooter Gordon Newlin. Williamson brought down a game-high 23 rebounds while Newlin led Noorvik with 18 points on 3-of-8 shooting from the 3-point line.
“We came out playing them straight man (defense), and we found out that (Williamson) was an incredible athlete, and we decided to take him out of his game,” Klaich said. “We changed the look, and we made an adjustment on defense.”
Nevertheless, Nikolaevsk found itself with an early 12-4 lead after one quarter, thanks to Fefelov and Gordeev’s ability to get to the rim.
Holding a 24-12 lead at halftime, the Warriors continued the onslaught in the third quarter, stringing together a 9-2 run to push their lead to 33-14 midway through the frame. Even after an eight-point burst from Noorvik put the Bears back within 11 points early in the fourth quarter, the Warriors shot back again with seven consecutive points to ice the game midway through the fourth.
Sea Otters 67, Falcons 47
Seldovia 17 20 10 20 —67
Kotlik 17 5 8 17 —47
SELDOVIA (67) — Ozyildirim 0 2-3 2, Waterbury 4 0-0 9, Collier 6 2-2 15, Haller 2 1-2 5, Philpot 8 3-5 19, O’Leary 7 3-5 17, Stanish 0 0-0 0. Totals 27 11-17 67.
KOTLIK (47) — Hunt 2 1-2 5, Beans 4 1-1 9, L. Okitkun 7 3-4 18, D. Okitkun 2 0-0 4, Akaran 3 3-4 9, Hendrickson 0 0-1 0, Prince 1 0-0 2, Savetilik 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 8-12 47.
3-point goals — Seldovia 2 (Waterbury 1, Collier 1); Kotlik 1 (L. Okitkun). Fouled out — Akaran.
Warriors 50, Bears 33
Nikolaevsk 12 12 9 17 —50
Noorvik 4 8 8 13 —33
NIKOLAEVSK (50) — K. Molodih 2 0-0 4, Trail 1 2-2 4, N. Fefelov 1 2-6 5, Gordeev 5 1-3 11, F. Molodih 3 0-0 7, J. Fefelov 6 5-9 19, Kalugin 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 10-20 50.
NOORVIK (33) — Coffiin 1 0-0 2, Williamson 2 0-0 4, Wells 0 0-0 0, Downey 0 0-0 0, Newlin 6 3-5 18, Snyder 0 0-2 0, Harvey 1 0-0 2, Smith 2 1-2 5, I. Snyder 0 0-0 0, Armstrong 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 4-9 33.