One team’s season would be ending Friday morning at the Alaska Airlines Center, and Shismaref’s Edward Kokeok made sure it wasn’t his.
Kokeok drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 27 seconds left to send the Shishmaref boys to a 55-52 victory over Nikolaevsk and end the Warriors season on the spot in the 2018 Class 1A state tournament. The Northern Lights advanced to Saturday’s fourth-place game, while Nikolaevsk finished their state run with a 1-2 showing over three days.
“The kids played great, and I thought we had it there at the end,” said Nikolaevsk head coach Steve Klaich. “It came down to the little missed details.”
Kokeok’s shot capped a tight fourth quarter that featured five lead changes in the last five minutes. Kokeok finished with a game-high 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting, while teammate Jeremiah Iyatunguk scored 18 and 10 rebounds.
Warriors junior Michael Trail notched a double-double of 15 points, 11 rebounds, while senior Kalenik Molodih ended his high school career with 11 points and nine boards and J.D. Mumey had 11 on three treys. Molodih, who was named to the All-State Second Team list, shot a meager 5 for 24 from the floor.
After winning an opening day play-in game that placed them into the championship bracket, each team lost its respective quarterfinal Thursday that relegated both squads to chasing fourth place.
Klaich said with the different players that had to meld into a cohesive unit this year, he was happy with how the Warriors fared. After losing a key senior in Nikit Fefelov from last year’s squad, Nikolaevsk brought into their fold two previous rivals in Seldovia’s Sage Stanish and Ninilchik’s J.D. Mumey. Stanish joined the team via a program that allows players from schools that are unable to field a team to join another school, while Mumey transferred.
“The kids had a great season,” Klaich said. “We had different pieces with Sage and J.D. and it was an adjustment to learn to play together. I thought the team defense today looked as good as it has all season.”
Friday proved to be their final appearance together this season.
Shishmaref went 2 for 16 from the free throw line in the second half, and 3 for 18 overall. Fred Sinnok had a chance to give Shishmaref the lead with 1:08 left and down one, but missed both attempts.
However, the Northern Lights got another chance on a Nikolaevsk turnover just 10 seconds later, and made it count. On the other end of the court, a missed 3-pointer was brought down for an offensive rebound and landed in the hands of Kokeok, who buried his triple with 27 ticks remaining, putting Shishmaref up 54-52.
On the ensuing Nikolaevsk possession, Molodih and Sage Stanish both missed shot attempts before Shishmaref rebounded with 10 seconds left. Iyatunguk then sunk one of two free throws with 5.8 seconds left, and Molodih couldn’t convert a long running triple at the buzzer.
“It came down to a couple missed rebounds, a couple misses layups,” Klaich said. “And we had some late turnovers.”
Prior to the tense finish, Nikolaevsk had to dig itself out of a third-quarter hole. Tied 26-all at halftime, it was Shishmaref making moves in the second half. A triple by Kokeok with 5:32 left in the third put Shishmaref up 36-31, then a driving basket with 2:38 left pushed the lead to 43-33.
Nikolaevsk answered with a 9-0 run, starting with a layup from Trail. Molodih added a breakaway layup and a 3-pointer that cut the lead to 43-40 at the third-quarter buzzer, then added a putback bucket early in the fourth quarter that made it a 45-44 game.
Mumey gave Nikolaevsk a 47-45 lead on a triple with 4:57 left in the game, and Trail stretched it to 50-47 on a bucket and foul shot.
However, Shishmaref capitalized on a few Nikolaevsk turnovers to retake the lead with 1:42 left with a steal and layup by Kokeok. Mumey answered with a drive to the rim with 1:15 left to put the Warriors back on top 52-51 before the final drama played out.
Northern Lights 55, Warriors 52
Shishmaref 12 14 17 12 —55
Nikolaevsk 11 15 14 12 —52
SHISHMAREF (55) — Iyatunguk 0 0-0 0, Sinnok 5 1-8 12, Sinnok 0 0-0 0, Kokeok 8 0-3 19, Nayokpuk 1 0-1 2, Stevenson 2 0-0 4, Iyatunguk 8 2-6 18. Totals 24 3-18 55.
NIKOLAEVSK (52) — Molodih 5 0-0 11, Stanish 3 0-2 7, Kalugin 0 0-0 0, Nikitenko 3 0-0 8, Mumey 4 0-0 11, Trail 6 3-3 15. Totals 21 3-5 52.
3-point goals — Shishmaref 4 (Kokeok 3, Sinnok 1); Nikolaevsk 7 (Mumey 3, Nikitenko 2, Stanish 1, Molodih 1).