The Ninilchik girls checked one box on their Class 1A state tournament to-do list, which was make it to the final day, and the Wolverines checked the other box with a 36-18 victory Saturday afternoon in the girls consolation championship game.
Ninilchik prevailed over the Kake Thunderbirds with inside domination to rack up its second state consolation title in three years at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. After losing their opening day play-in game Wednesday, the Wolverines had to win three straight to not only stay alive, but stake their claim as “best of the rest.”
“It felt good to win,” said Ninilchik head coach Josh Demlow. “It sets up some motivation for next year.”
Junior forward DeeAnn White notched her fourth double-double in as many days at state, scoring 20 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, and nearly hit a triple-double with nine steals. Over the four-day tournament, White, who was named the Class 1A Player of the Year in a statewide coaches vote, averaged 19.7 points and 15.5 rebounds.
The win was also the best way to send off senior Olivia Delgado, who Demlow and others on the team have described as one of the true leaders on the squad.
“I can’t thank that kid enough,” Demlow said. “She’s put so much into our program, getting other girls to play and motivating them and keeping them working in the offseason. It’s just incredible.”
Delgado had eight points and nine rebounds in her final high school game, and said all the hard work over the previous four years paid off with this week’s spirited run.
“I wanted my last game with the team to be a win,” Delgado said. “We love each other like a family.”
The senior said she felt some of the responsibility to help coach up the younger players on the team — teammates such as juniors Isabella Koch and White, sophomore Madi Cooper and freshman Jade Robuck — in order to set up the Wolverines for a potential state title run next year.
But, the leadership was never something she backed down from because of her love for her team.
“This is the last (game) I ever get (to play),” she said. “I put everything into every game this year, knowing I’d never wear this jersey again.”
Delgado said after this school year, she plans on enrolling in the Kenai Peninsula College nursing program for an associate’s degree, then moving on to study for a bachelor’s degree at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Saturday against Kake, the key was controlling the glass. Ninilchik thoroughly dominated for a second straight day with a 38-21 rebounding advantage, including 16-1 on offensive boards.
In a win over Alak on Thursday, Ninilchik narrowly lost the rebounding battle, something Demlow said rarely happens with the team. He said it was that performance that made Ninilchik dig deep and nearly impossible to beat over the final two days.
“I told them we can’t let that happen,” he said. “They took it to heart, and as a coach, when you talk to them about something, and they go out and do it, that’s the best feeling.”
It made for a rough day for the Thunderbirds, as White was there for numerous tip-back buckets and second-chance points. Overall, Ninilchik ended up with 51 total field goal attempts, while Kake finished with 38.
The Wolverines also buckled down on defense in the second half, holding Kake to just five points on 11 percent shooting from the floor.
After Kake sophomore Willow Jackson took off with 11 points in the first half, Demlow said White did a much better job defending the Thunderbirds guard in the second half. Jackson failed to score a bucket in the second half and finished with a team-high 12 points.
“DeeAnn came out re-energized and focused and shut her down,” Demlow said.
Ninilchik took a 7-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game and led 12-7 after one quarter.
After leading 18-13 at halftime, the Wolverines began to really open up in the third quarter, starting with White, who scored seven points of a 9-0 run. In the early minutes of the fourth, Delgado laid in a post shot and White drove the lane for a layup that pushed the lead to 31-15 with five minutes to play.
Ninilchik girls 41, Toksook Bay 23
The Wolverines had trouble finding the netting early in Friday’s consolation semifinal at the Class 1A state tournament, but when their offense started clicking, it just wouldn’t stop.
The Wolverines staved off elimination for a second straight day by prevailing 41-23 over the Toksook Bay Islanders in the 1A girls consolation bracket. The win set Ninilchik up in Saturday’s consolation championship game.
DeeAnn White dominated the court with 27 points and 22 rebounds, while freshman Jade Robuck joined in the post domination with 15 boards. Overall, the Wolverines cleaned up the glass with a staggering 53-27 rebound advantage.
White said she felt motivated to win out after losing Wednesday’s opening game.
“I just wanted to win and not give up,” White said. “We wanted our season to continue, we wanted another last game to play on the big (main arena) court.”
With lone senior Olivia Delgado facing the prospect of her final game in her four-year career at Ninilchik, plus the younger players getting extra game experience under the bright lights of the big stage, White said the Wolverines arrived at the Alaska Airlines Center Friday with a win-at-all-costs mind-set.
“It would mean a lot to everybody on the team,” she said. “It would be great experience for them.”
Ninilchik head coach Josh Demlow said after losing the first-round game to Davis Ramoth School, the Wolverines intensified their focus on one game at a time, and while a slow start hindered the team, the defense proved their attitudes were legit.
“I told them, ‘Do you want to go out there and act like you know how to play basketball?’” Demlow said.
The two teams combined for just three field goals in the first half, with Ninilchik shooting a meager 7 percent from the floor and Toksook Bay 9 percent, resulting in a 10-all halftime score. Over the course of the game, neither team was able to hit a 3-pointer, either, as Ninilchik went 0 for 10 from beyond the arc and Toksook Bay went 0 for 12.
However, the Wolverines offense finally came around in the second half with 31 points on 39 percent shooting. Toksook Bay, however, continued to struggle with 13 points on 19 percent shooting.
“That was a struggle offensively,” Demlow said. “The girls weren’t getting the ball to open spots on the floor, they were turning it over, and that’s not where we were for the entire season.”
Ninilchik turned the ball over 29 times, well above their season average, but Demlow said the team’s rebounding domination saved the day.
“We’ve only been outrebounded twice this season,” he said. “Once was (Thursday against Alak), and the other was against the Kodiak varsity.
“I told them that can’t happen again, and boy, was that a good response.”
Tied at 10 apiece at the half, Ninilchik finally got shots to drop in the third quarter. White scored 11 straight points herself and 13 of Ninilchik’s 15 points in the quarter to give the Wolverines a 25-12 lead, as the junior forward put back rebounds and second-chance opportunities.
Ninilchik also caught Toksook Bay sleeping on several occasions when White caught the inbounds pass for a quick layup.
The Islanders got as close as 30-19 with 5:19 left in the fourth quarter, but Toksook Bay’s most potent player, Sammie Pitka, fouled out with 4:42 left. In all, the Islanders had four players foul out with a total of 23 team fouls. The sloppy play led to 47 combined free throws between both teams.
Ninilchik went on an 8-0 run in the final five minutes to seal the victory.
Wolverines 36, Thunderbirds 18
Kake 7 6 2 3 —18
Ninilchik 12 6 9 9 —36
KAKE (18) — Jackson 5 1-2 12, James 3 0-0 6, Jackson 0 0-0 0, Copsey 0 0-0 0, Rose 0 0-0 0, Ross-Shaquanie 0 0-0 0, Beer 0 0-0 0, Acevda 0 0-0 0, Vantrease 0 0-0 0. Totals 8 1-2 18.
NINILCHIK (36) — Delgado 3 1-6 8, Jasper 0 0-0 0, Robuck 0 0-0 0, Koch 4 0-0 8, White 9 2-7 20, Cooper 0 0-0 0, Okonek 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 3-13 36.
3-point goals — Kake 1 (Jackson); Ninilchik 1 (Delgado).
Team fouls — Kake 13, Ninilchik 6. Fouled out — none.
Wolverines 41, Islanders 23
Ninilchik 3 7 15 16 —41
Toksook Bay 6 4 2 11 —23
NINILCHIK (41) — Delgado 1 2-5 4, Jasper 0 0-0 0, Robuck 0 2-5 2, Koch 2 0-0 4, White 9 9-17 27, Cooper 2 0-0 4, Okonek 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 13-27 41.
TOKSOOK BAY (23) — Chanar 1 2-2 4, Mute 0 0-0 0, Charlie 0 0-0 0, Chakuchin 1 0-2 2, Pitka 2 3-7 7, Sipary 0 0-0 0, Simons 0 2-2 2, Lincoln 3 2-7 8, Mark 0 0-0 0, Chagluak 0 0-0 0. Totals 7 9-20 23.
3-point goals — Ninilchik 0; Toksook Bay 0.