Ames goes after ‘The Rock’ against Galena. Al Grillo/AP

Lady Panthers blast Tri-Valley

SHS falls to five-time champion Ninilchik, takes fifth place after loss to Galena in consolation final

By JEFF BRADY

After an absence of 20 years from State Tourney action, the Skagway High Lady Panthers served notice with a 22-point opening round win over Tri-Valley that they were serious title contenders.
But in the semifinals against top-ranked Ninilchik, the Panther offense never got on track, and the Grizzlies advanced with a 37-25 win en route to a record fifth straight state title.
Skagway played much better in the third place game against Galena, but allowed the Hawks to grab the lead in the last two minutes. With a 43-37 win, Galena avenged a loss earlier in the season to the Lady Panthers at the Tok Tourney.
The Lady Panthers settled for fifth place, with a final overall record of 15-5.
“All in all, we did pretty well,” said Skagway coach Lara Labesky after returning home from the March 25-27 tourney at Anchorage’s Service High.
Considering they were playing tough teams every night on a big court in front of big crowds, it was a learning experience for both team and coach.
“We were not the only team that was young.” she said. “There could be a lot of the same teams back next year. To get back there, we have to work on it. Everyone has to get their hands on a ball this summer.”

Quarterfinal: Skagway 57, Tri-Valley 35: SGY-Ames 28, Harris 16, Can. Ketterman 10, Potter 2, Cry. Ketterman 1; TV- Milliken 14, Kloster 12, Hager 4, Moffat 2, Talerico 2, Halloran 1.
All-state junior guard Savannah Ames poured in 28 points and Michelle Harris came off the bench to score 16 as the Lady Panthers cruised to a 22-6 lead in the first quarter.
Ames hit five three-pointers and had no problem penetrating the Tri-Valley defense. Harris blocked out well and got great position for inside buckets. Candi Ketterman also had a good offensive game with 10 points.
“We just got off to a great start,” Labesky said, and her team is hard to stop when they get on roll.

Semifinals: Ninilchik 37, Skagway 25: NIN- Ke. Moerlein 13, Mattson 8, Wood 5, Ka. Moerlin 4, Wolford 4, Peterson 3; SGY- Ames 16, Cry. Ketterman 3, Harris 3, Potter 2, Can. Ketterman 1.
This highly anticipated game started off as a sleeper, with neither team able to find the bucket. Skagway led 3-2 on an Ames three-pointer near the end of the first quarter, and the Wolverines came back o take a 10-5 lead at the half.
Ninilchik went on a 9-1 run to open the second half, and shot 70 percent from the free throw line in the final quarter to seal the victory. The closest Skagway got was 24-20 about midway through the final quarter on Ames’ third trey of the game.
Unlike the other games, there wasn’t much offense other than Ames. Labesky said her team needed to be more assertive on the offensive end.
“When Savannah came out and wasn’t hitting everything, they all got scared,” she said.
“We were a little tentative against Ninilchik,” Labesky added “Their experience (at state tourney) really showed, they had an advantage on us there.”
Ninilchik would go on to avenge a region final loss to Bristol Bay by knocking off their rival 43-37 in the state championship for their fifth straight title, best ever by any Alaska basketball team, regardless of class.

Consolation Final: Galena 41, Skagway 37: GAL- Burgett 13, Arkell 12, Carlo 8, Evans 4, Malamute 2, Demoski 2; SGY- Ames 10, Can. Ketterman 10, Potter 8, Neitzer 4, Cry. Ketterman 3, Harris 2.
Skagway played a better-rounded game, involving all of its shooters, and jumped out to a 22-17 half-time lead. But the Lady Panthers came out flat for the third quarter, allowing the Hawks to outscore them 12-2. Still, Skagway was able to mount a comeback, retook the lead, but gave it up with about two minutes to go.
For some reason, Labesky said, “at the end we spaced out and forgot to rebound.” Skagway was forced to foul and Galena, another good free throw shooting team, put it away.
“We shouldn’t have let them get the ball,” Labesky said. “The kids were upset we lost, but we were pleased where we got.”
First-year coach Labesky thanked boys coach Mark Jennings and assistant Dustin Hansen for coming up to Anchorage and giving her “a couple other sets of eyes on the bench – it helped a lot.”
With everyone coming back and a good crop of eighth graders joining the team, she sees another good year for the Panthers in 2004-05.
Labesky wants her girls to keep playing in the off-season, and hopes to be able to take them to a team camp this summer.

Anchorage Daily News and Juneau Empire contributed to this report. For complete game and tourney stats, go to www.asaa.org and click on the basketball page and 2A tourney links.