Savannah Ames saws at the net, and Candi Ketterman dives for a loose ball as Audrey Neitzer hustles to the play, exemplifyig the kind of effort it took to win the team's first region title since 1984. JB

Lady Panthers: Region Champs
Come-from-behind win over Yakutat carries team to first title in 20 years

By JEFF BRADY

KETCHIKAN – In their time of need, the Skagway Lady Panthers turned to an old standby to pull them out of a slump and carry them to their first region title since 1984.
Skagway was supposed to make it to the finals, and they were supposed to win. But if you are going to wait 20 years to do something special, you might as well make it a game for the ages.
With four minutes to go in the Region V 2A championship game against Yakutat, those title hopes, to some, appeared to be fading.
The game had started off well enough for Skagway. Candi Ketterman and Audrey Neitzer drained a pair of jumpers each in the first quarter, and Savannah Ames and Tiffanie Potter hit to keep the Panthers in the lead by four at half-time. Then Crystal Ketterman opened the second half with a steal and pass down to Ames for fast break bucket.
But Yakutat hung tough, never trailing by more than six points, despite playing without star guard Hannah Esbenshade, who injured her knee in their first round game.

REGION V 2A CHAMPS - from left, Candi Ketterman, Gloria Blanchard, Grace Blanchard, Christiana Stube, Savannah Ames, Tiffanie Potter, Crystal Ketterman, Audrey Neitzer, Michelle Harris, and coach Lara Labesky signa "Number 1" after receiving their trophy and medals.

Then, the Lady Panthers found themselves in the kind of a shooting slump that would have sent most teams to the cold case files. After that bucket to open the second half, and for the next 11 minutes, Skagway did not make a shot. Yakutat’s tough perimeter zone deserved some of the credit, but Skagway was getting off plenty of decent shots – three-pointers, short jumpers, even lay-ups – and nothing would fall.
“I was wondering if we’d ever make another basket,” said Skagway coach Lara Labesky.
Yakutat capitalized, and after the Eagles’ Jacquoi James made an easy bucket inside to put her team up by five, the Skagway crowd had that look on their faces. You know, the one you get when nothing is going right, and the ending is looking bad.
But shift your eyes to the court: there wasn’t any panic in the faces of those Panther players.
“I was not going to come this far and lose a region championship,” said guard Savannah Ames.
They were ready to dig deep and get back to the style of play that got them to an 11-1 region record.

Ames pulls up for a jumper in the lane.

Back when this team was beginning to germinate a couple years ago, defense was what kept them in games. Aside from Ames, there wasn’t much offense, but over the next two years, the other young players got better offensively, and with solid defensive roots, they became a great team.
Defense, that old standby, wins championships.
“I told them that their defense would carry them through,” Labesky said. “Just be patient, no matter how dire the situation, and it got pretty dire .. We just needed that one basket to fall to loosen things up.”
It came about a minute later. Ames and Crystal Ketterman trapped an Eagle in the backcourt, and Ames got the steal and a breakaway lay-up. It cut the Yakutat lead to three.
James responded with another bucket the next time down the floor, and it would be their last. After a time out, Candi Ketterman made a nice feed to Potter in the key. She missed the shot but made a free throw. The Panthers forced another turnover, and Ames drove baseline and got fouled. Her two
free throws cut the lead to two points.
Another backcourt trap, another Yakutat turnover, and Ames came down and fired in her only three-pointer of the night – that’s how cold the region’s long-range champ had been – to give the Panthers back the lead, 34-33, with 2:52 to go.
When Yakutat got the ball back, Skagway tied them up. The possession arrow went to Yakutat, and Skagway tied them up again to get the ball back. More great defense, but the Panthers missed their next shot, giving the Eagles the ball and another chance with about two minutes left.
The next sequence was probably the biggest of the night for the Panthers. They had a couple fouls to give, and remained aggressive on the perimeter. Twice, when the Eagles tried to get a shot off, Ames swatted it away, the second time getting the ball for another steal, another lay-up, and she would get fouled in the process. She completed the traditional three-point-play, and Skagway was up 37-33 with 53 seconds to go.
Yakutat still had a chance, and when Ashton Schmidt drove to the bucket, Crystal Ketterman got a hand on her. Schmidt made the first free throw to cut the Skagway lead to three. Schmidt missed the second shot, but Yakutat’s Magan James grabbed the rebound, giving the Eagles an opportunity to tie with 30 seconds to go. Yet when she kicked out the pass to the corner, the ball was
lost out of bounds.
“We left everything on the floor,” said Eagles coach Joe Klushkan. “I’m so proud of them.”

Candi Ketterman and Savannah Ames drive to the bucket.

All Skagway had to do now was not make any mistakes and run out the clock.
The inbound pass went in to Ames, who weaved through the Eagles’ full-court pressure and got the ball upcourt to Potter, who was wide open at her favorite spot near the free throw line. There were still about 15 seconds left, and she shot it, way too soon, but her teammates were able to chase down the rebound and kill some more time.
With the clock ticking down to the last second, the ball ended up in Potter’s hands again, and she had no doubt this time. The ball went up, and down through the net as the buzzer sounded, and the celebration was on. Final score: 39-34.
“Did you see that shot?!” Potter exclaimed, as her teammates hugged and jumped, jumped and hugged each other on the court.
“This is awesome,” Ames said. “I’ve never had this feeling before. It’s intense.”
“That was too close,” added a relieved coach Labesky. “Thank God they can play defense.”
Both coach and captain felt the team could have played a lot better. They knew Yakutat, who had split a home series with Skagway, would be tough, even without Esbenshade, but said they should have been able to handle them.
“It was us making mistakes,” Ames said, just like in their first game.
In their semifinal game against Klawock, the Panthers had serious turnover problems in the first half to go with cold shooting. They trailed 16-12 at the half, before their mission of getting to State got real. Skagway cut loose on a 13-0 run to open the second half, and the Panthers led by as many as 17 down the stretch in a 37-25 win.
“We need to get our game together for State, not as many turnovers,” Ames added.
Labesky would have preferred a big win in the region championship game, but said the nail-biter might serve Skagway well this week in Anchorage.
“Winning like this is a big boost of confidence,” Labesky said. “We made up a five point deficit in the final minutes and won by five. We could get in a similar situation at State and know we can pull it out.”
The Lady Panthers opened the ASAA 2A State Tourney against Tri-Valley Thursday after this issue went to press. If they won, they likely would face top-ranked Ninilchik in the semifinal game tonight at 8:30 p.m. Skagway met up with the three-time state champs at Tok earlier this season, leading most of the game before giving up the lead in the final quarter and losing by five.
“I feel confident,” Ames said.

The team cheers as Coach Lara Labesky cuts down the net.

NETTINGS - “We’re ready to cut down the nets,” said Michelle Harris, as she crossed the parking lot, a few hours before the championship game.
“That’s what I came down here to take pictures of,” responded the reporter.
But after the boys game, when the nets were ready to come down, the Panther players were given a bad pair of scissors. The first few players sawed and sawed with both blades, but they would barely cut the nylon. Soon after the Hydaburg boys net was down on the other end, a Ketchickan official ran to the girls end with two fresh pairs of scissors, and a few snips later, the net was down. Each player got a string, and Harris was jumping up and down with her piece of the title.
A nice young man from a rival village, who was a bit slower than normal, was holding the rickety ladder as the Panthers climbed up to cut the net. He said the Skagway girls were his favorite team. And the Skagway girls, who had known this young man was a fan, bought a card and signed it for him before they left town. No wonder Skagway won the team sportsmanship award.

MORE KUDOS: Savannah Ames and Crystal Ketterman were selected to the all-conference team, and many felt Candi Ketterman should have been on there too. Savannah and Crystal also were selected to the all-sport team, and Savannah won the three-point shooting contest, making 10 in 60 seconds.
Crystal and Michelle Harris were also honored for “outstanding” cheerleading during the boys games.

Semifinal - March 19: Skagway 39, Klawock 27: SGY- Ames 22, Can. Ketterman 7, Potter 6, Neitzer 4; KLA- Ryno 16, Meece 6, Webb 4, Sather 1.

Championship - March 20: Skagway 39, Yakutat 33: SGY- Ames 20, Can. Ketterman 8, Potter 7, Neitzer 4; YAK- J. James 17, Schmidt 7, M. James 6, Porter 2, Schumacher 2.

The Panther teams won the team sportmanship trophy.

Panther boys finish with tourney losses, Knorr all-conference pick

The Skagway boys team entered the Region V 2A tourney on a high note – sweeping their final home series against Kake. The wins earned the Panthers a sixth seed on the opposite side of the bracket from three-time region champion Hydaburg.
A couple more good nights, and Skagway might have been able to earn a trip back to State Tourney.
The Panthers opened against third seed Hoonah, and took a 6-5 lead on the Braves behind a pair of treys from sophomore Trevor Cochran. But that seemed to ignite the opposing team. Hoonah’s Dustin Bowed started launching them from “way out there” and the Braves opened up a 38-17 half-time lead.

Hank Burnham shoots over Yakutat, and Thomas Knorr grabs one of his 20 rebounds in his last game.

“On the offensive end we were okay, but our defensive pressure was not good enough,” said coach Mark Jennings. “Hoonah can really shoot it and you have to get a hand in their face.”
Except for some inside buckets by Thomas Knorr and the occasional jumper by Hank Burnham, Skagway was no match for the Braves shooting. A frustrated Garrett Henry, who went scoreless, fouled out in the third quarter after slamming the ball to the court and picking up a technical.
At the end of the game, down by more than 30, Skagway got some life when Florian Wischnat hit a basket, and Makeah Twitchell was fouled on a three-point try. The friendly freshman sank two of his three free throws for his first tourney points.
Skagway dropped to the consolation game against Klawock, a team it had defeated twice by forfeit early in the season when the Chieftains were trying to get a team together. It figured to be a close game with both teams sporting 5-9 league records.
Cochran started off hot again with three treys in the first quarter. The teams traded leads, with Skagway up 11-7 at the end of the first quarter, and Klawock up 23-22 at the half.
Skagway started the second half with an eight point run to lead 30-23, led by Thomas Knorr in the paint. But Travis Mascasaet got hot with nine points in the quarter as Klawock made a run to get the lead back. Henry finally started getting his shot to go down, knocking down a big three-pointer off the glass to cut the Chieftain lead to one going into the final quarter.
Then Bradley Kato got hot for Klawock, hitting two long ones for his team to open the final quarter, and adding a third near the end of the game after Skagway had climbed back in it. Klawock held off the Panthers, 52-47.
Skagway finished with four players in double figures.
“We played a lot better against Klawock,” Jennings said. “We got in some foul trouble, and the calls just went against us in the end.”
With two losses, that should have been it for the Panthers, but Jennings got a call at 8:30 a.m. Saturday asking if his team wanted to play again. It seems some Klawock boys had missed curfew the night before, and the violation of team rules kept them from fielding a team in the fourth place game with Yakutat. Jennings asked his players, and they got ready for a 9:45 a.m. tip-off.
Henry opened up the game with a bucket, but that would be Skagway’s only lead of the day. Yakutat went on a 13-1 run after that, but never was out of reach. Midway through the first quarter, Skagway lost Cochran after he landed on his bad foot, and Skagway missed his scoring. Wishnat and John McCluskey made some nice buckets down low, but Skagway trailed 21-8 after one quarter, and 27-16 at the half.
Skagway got the lead under 10 with a nice feed from Burnham to Knorr to open the third quarter, but Yakutat responded with an 8-0 run to give them their biggest lead at 35-18. Burnham got hot in the second half, hitting a scoop shot on the baseline, a three-pointer, and four free throws to cap off his senior season. But the highlight came late in the game, as Kevin Wang, the little-used exchange student from Taiwan, came off the bench and hit his first shot of the season, and added a free throw late in the game. Henry also added a couple buckets in the final seconds, but Yakutat won the exhibition game, 57-46.

Florian Wischnat gets off a shot on the baseline, and Panthers John McCluskey, Knorr and Burnham swarm a Yakutat player to force a turnover.

Jennings said his team did the best they could.
“Individually, they all improved,” he said. “Their decision making has gotten a lot better ... I think they overachieved. We would have done a lot more things with more talent.”
“I learned a lot,” added the first-year coach. “It was as much a learning experience for me as for them because they didn’t have much floor experience.”
Eligibility problems throughout the season made things difficult, and a steady lineup could have given Skagway some more wins.
It might not get any easier next year. At this point, unless some new students come in, Jennings could be looking at just six or seven players on next year’s team, which will need a ball handler and some rebounders.

PANTHER PERFORMERS – Despite playing with a bad back, Thomas Knorr had a double-double in all three tournament games, capping it off with a 20-rebound performance against Yakutat.
Knorr was the team’s only all-conference selection, and he also made the senior all-academic team. Trevor Cochran and Makeah Twitchell were named to the all-sport team. – JB

Quarterfinal - March 18: Hoonah 69, Skagway 35: HOO- Bowen 26, Mills 14, Brown 7, Smith 6, Moritz 5, White 4, Dybdahl 4, Linstrom 3; SGY- Knorr 12, Burnham 8, Cochran 6, Wischnat 4, McCluskey 3, Twitchell 2.

Consolation - March 19: Klawock 52, Skagway 47: KLA- Macasaet 20, Kato 18, Williams 10, Nelson 2, MacKinnon 2; SGY- Knorr 14, Henry 11, Cochran 11, Burnham 10, McCluskey 1.

Exhibition- 4th Place - March 20: Yakutat 57, Skagway 46: YAK: Dunbar 17, Dierick 16 (incomplete); SGY: Knorr 13, Burnham 11, Henry 9, Wishnat 6, McCluskey 4, Wang 3.