By JEFF BRADY
The Lady Panthers completed the regular season with impressive wins at the Tok tourney including a victory over top-ranked Ninilchik and swept Kake to clinch top seed in this weeks Southeast Region 2A Tourney.
The Skagway girls received a first-round bye despite an identical regional record with Yakutat. The teams split their series here, but Skagway won the tiebreaker with its larger victory to earn the Lady Panthers the top seed.
In Fridays semifinal at 3 p.m., Skagway will face either Hoonah or Kake. A win would earn Skagway a coveted second straight trip to the state tourney and a chance to repeat as region champions in the title game at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Those have been the goals all season for the Lady Panthers, and coach Lara Labesky said the team is motivated and doesnt mind sitting around watching games during the first day of regionals.
This team, I dont have to do much to keep them motivated, she said.
Case in point: the first game at the Tok Tourney. Skagway was down eight points to Galena with a minute to go in the game, and it looked as though the Panthers would suffer their second defeat of the season. But Skagway was able to foul, Galena missed some key free throws, and Skagway executed on the offensive end, making their own free throws. Michelle Harris tied the score at the line with 25 seconds to go. And when Skagway got the ball back for the final play, a double-teamed Savannah Ames was able to find Audrey Neitzer open for a jumper, which she nailed with 9 seconds to go, for the 43-41 lead. Then the Panthers played great defense forcing the Hawks to throw up an air ball.
We were down and did exactly what we had to do to come back and win that game, Labesky said. I had never seen that from them before.
The win was a big lift, and it carried over to their next opponent, top-ranked and five-time defending 2A state champion Ninilchik, which had beaten Skagway twice last year. The Lady Panthers put together a complete game, with balanced scoring and great defense, and handed Ninilchik its second loss of the season, 51-36. Only Bristol Bay, the other team to beat Ninilchik this year, is ranked higher than the Panthers. Skagway had a little trouble getting started in its finale, a 9 a.m. game against Alak, but won easily, 73-40.
The team had little rest at home before boarding a plane to Kake March 1 to make up games that were postponed by weather and no fast ferry in late January. Skagway won both games but got a challenge in the second game, as the T-Birds held a 27-24 lead at the half.
It was a bit of a surprise, but I knew it wouldnt last, Labesky said. We came out with more defensive pressure and won by more than the night before.
The teams boarded a ferry Tuesday for the trip to Sitka. The Southeast 2A Region Tourney will be at the huge Mt. Edgecumbe gym for the first time since the old Class B days of the 1970s.
The Skagway boys have had a rough season but received some good news Monday when the brackets came out, showing Skagway matched against Thorne Bay, a team that barely beat the Panthers early in the season.
The Panther boys were scheduled to play at 1 p.m. Thursday as this issue was being printed. If they won, they will play a semifinal game at 4:45 p.m. Friday against top seed Kake. If they lost, they move into a consolation bracket game at 9:45 a.m. Saturday.
Boys coach Mark Jennings said Skagway will have two players it didnt have earlier against the Wolverines, Josh Cotton and Tom Littlefield. John McCluskey is over an illness that kept him from traveling to Kake, and Trevor Cochran is running at 90 percent and carrying the practices. The team has everyone eligible and will be at full strength against Thorne Bay.
The kids look a lot more intense in practice (this week), Jennings said. They know that they can play against them, and they know they can beat them.
The key for Skagway will be to step up and not turn the ball over. Jennings said he is counting on senior leader McCluskey to deliver.
Leading up to the tournament, Skagway almost got its first on-court win of the season in Tok against Anderson. Skagway led 28-20 in the third quarter behind 14 points from Cochran, but Skagway got in foul trouble and the Grizzlies outscored the Panthers 14-8 in the final quarter to get the win. Once other teams realized they could press the Panthers, Skagway fell harder to Tanana and Galena, despite some good shooting performances from Littlefield and McCluskey.
A few days later, without McCluskey and sophomore Jake Henricksen in the lineup, the Panther boys were drummed at Kake to end the regular season. Skagway could manage just five points in its first game, and watched in awe as Kakes Tim Demmert scored a record 58 points in the finale, most coming off Skagway turnovers.
After that game, Skagway could only look ahead to tournament, where a win would be a big boost to the teams confidence for this season and the next.
Theyve look pretty good in practice, Jennings concluded. I think theyll play well, but weve got to take care of the basketball.
Varsity Girls (19-1, 11-1 conf.)
Feb. 24-26 - at Tok Tourney (scoring leaders): #3 Skagway 43, #4 Galena 41: SGY- M. Harris 11, Can. Ketterman 10; GAL- Lanning 14. #3 Skagway 51, #1 Ninilchik 36.: SGY- Ames 17, Potter 10, M. Harris 10; NIN- Erickson 12; #3 Skagway 73, Alak 40: SGY- Ames 28, M. Harris 15; ALA- Ahmaogak 18.
Mar. 1- #2 Skagway 51, at Kake 34: SGY: Ames 17, M. Harris 11, Can. Ketterman 8, Potter 8, Neitzer 4, Cry. Ketterman 3. KAK- Gregory 9, Lemere 8, Aceveda 7, Sa. Jackson 6, Sh. Jackson 4. Mar. 2 - #2 Skagway 58, Kake 33: SGY- Ames 28, Can. Ketterman 15, M. Harris 7, Neitzer 6, Potter 2; KAK- Aceveda 10, Lamere 10, Gregory 4, Sh. Jackson 4, Sa. Jackson 3, Christopherson 2.
Varsity Boys (4-16, 4-8 conf.)
Feb. 24-26 - at Tok Tourney (scoring leaders): Anderson 41, Skagway 36: AND- Nelson 15; SGY- Cochran 14; Tanana 86, Skagway 40: TAN- Hyslop 36, Carlo 21; SGY- Littlefield 16, McCluskey 13; Galena 67, Skagway 23: GAL- Thurmond 16, Burgess 16; SGY- Cochran 11.
Mar. 1 - #3 Kake 71, Skagway 5: Knudson 20, Morris 10, Friday 8, Ashenfelter 8, Demmert 6, Jackson 5, Cavanaugh 4, Mach 4; SGY- Cochran 4, Littlefield 1. Mar 2 - #3 Kake 91, Skagway 20: KAK- Demmert 58, Ashenfelter 15, Pate 6, Morris 6, Knudsen 2, Jackson 2, Mach 2; SGY- Littlefield 8, Cochran 6, Cotton 3, Dennis 3.
The Juneau Empire will be covering the region tourney for us this week. For updates, see the sports pages at www.juneauempire.com. If the Panthers make it to State, The Skagway News will follow them north to Anchorage next week and file stories and photos with the Empire. All tourney games will be aired on KHNS.
UPDATE: The girls won the Southeast 2A title for the second straight year and advanced to State Tourney March 17-20. Details in March 25 issue.
Mickey Wilson skis to the finish. Photo by Vince Fedoroff, Whitehorse Star
Another great Yukon ski weekend
Skagway had 24 participants in the NorthwesTel Yukon Loppet last weekend on the Mt. McIntyre course in Whitehorse.
And for the first time Skagway skiers cracked the top three in the event: Ski Club coach Denise Caposey was third in the open womens 6.5 km. classic race, and Melissa Cardoso was the one and only finisher in the junior womens division.
Among the Skagway kids, there were two fourth place finishers, Rori Leaverton in the open girls 3 km., and Kaitlyn Surdyk in the mini-midget girls 7.5 km. classic race. Sydney Brown was fifth in the pee wee girls 7.5 km. classic.
The top Skagway boys were Yasha Saldi with a fifth place finish in the atom boys 7.5 km. classic, and Mickey Wilson who took seventh in the midget boys 7.5 km. classic.
All our kids did their personal bests, Caposey said. It was a great weekend.
Adult Nan Saldi also had a great 20-km. race in under two hours. Complete results are posted at www.xcskiwhitehorse.ca. Scroll down under the Whitehorse Ski Club events list and find the Loppet results.
Caposey offered a big thanks to Tim Bourcy for arranging rooms for the kids at the Westmark and paying for the kids swims at the Whitehorse pool and movie passes. Next race for the Ski Club is the Buckwheat Ski Classic on March 26. In the meantime, they will practicing on Saturdays at Log Cabin. The convoy leaves the school at 11 a.m.