By JEFF BRADY
SITKA – There has never been a season like this in my 38 years of covering Skagway High basketball. Occasionally one team may go through a season without a win – they happen once in a while when a lot of players graduate or move on and enrollment thins – but there has never been a season, until now, when both teams put up zeroes in the win column.
However, looking at these teams and the way they react after sometimes big-margin losses, you wouldn’t classify them as losers. They remain supportive and they continue to talk about getting better. If there is such thing as a good way to lose, then these 2014-15 Panther teams showed how to do it, with class. And when they look back on this season, after picking up that elusive first win next year, the memories of that season of no wins will be even better.
Those wins will come. At the Region V 1A Tourney, the Skagway girls came within three points of claiming a victory in its last game. And both teams, while struggling against bigger and more experienced squads of upperclassmen, played even with or better than the second units of younger players on other teams. The Skagway girls have the tools now, and the boys could use a few more players to help make it happen.
Here are the tourney game reports, followed by final thoughts from Skagway coaches Kent Fielding and Jess Callies.
SHS Boys (0-11)
Opening Round: Gustavus 62, Skagway 14: GUS- Wagner 26, Patrick 21, Ewing 9, Christofferson 6; SGY- W. Belisle 6, Ackerman 4, C. Belisle 4. GUS 19-15-10-18=63, SGY 2-4-4-4=14.
In the tourney opener at the bright and early time of 8:15 a.m., the Panther boys played the Gustavus Foxes, winners of just one game this season over Thorne Bay. Skagway players thought they had a real shot at a win, but the Foxes turned out to be better than expected, with two stellar players in Jordan Wagner and Jonah Patrick. First quarter jitters perhaps accounted for seven Panther turnovers and Gustavus capitalized to take a 12-0 lead.
“It’s a hustle game,” coach Fielding urged his players at the break. Their defensive effort improved, and Skagway settled down with Colton Belisle making a couple baskets, and his brother Wyatt hitting another. Wyatt then added a couple more in the third quarter. His effort was amazing, considering he was hobbled by a hyper-extended knee and unable to run the floor. Skagway’s leading scorer, Alex Ackerman, finally connected in the fourth quarter but fouled out shortly thereafter. The short lineup, coupled with Wyatt being at half speed, allowed the Foxes to run up the score at the end of the game. Ackerman would make up for it in the next game.
Consolation Round: Thorne Bay 43, Skagway 12: TB- C. Thomas 17, Tipps 11, A. Thomas 9, Ayers 2, Jennings 2; SGY- Ackerman 10, Brady 2. TB 10-12-13-8=43, SGY 2-0-8-2=12.
Skagway players also felt they had a good shot at Thorne Bay, and the game, another early one, started out pretty close with neither team getting hot. The Panthers were more aggressive going to the bucket at the start of the game. Ackerman connected early on from the free throw line, but the shots just weren’t falling. Meanwhile Clint Thomas and Dylan Tipps started connecting in the second quarter for the Wolverines, and Skagway found itself in a 20-2 hole at halftime.
It’s been a season of learning for the Skagway boys. A prime example was when Micah Cook made some great rebounds at the end of the half, only to have them wrestled away or his outlet intercepted. But he would get that under control in the second half. Skagway also started pressing, which resulted in some Thorne Bay turnovers. Ackerman then hit a hot streak, nailing four straight buckets to end the third quarter. By then it was still 35-10, but that flurry showed what Skagway can do.
Neither team could score in the final quarter, but eighth grader Danny Brady made a nice crossover move en route to a bucket in the final seconds. That could be a sign of good things to come next year, but they all need to work on their games in the off-season and find a couple more boys to come out for the team.
Final thoughts from coach Kent Fielding:
“The season was a good learning experience for all five of our players. Everyone improved, and I believe everyone is committed to working hard this summer. I mean we are still looking for a point guard, and we are still figuring out how to move without the ball, but we had moments. Example, the third quarter vs. Thorne Bay was nice. Our press got some turnovers, and we scored 8 quick points. We need more quarters like that one next year. It’ll be an important summer for all five of them. If they want a better season next year, it starts now.”
SHS Girls (0-16)
Opening Round: Yakutat 63, Skagway 8: YAK- Go 19, J. Johnson 12, Bell 9, Newlun 9, F. Johnson 6, Jensen 4, Long 2, Ford 2; SGY- Whitehead 3, Cox 3, Selmer 2. YAK 22-12-24-5=63, SGY 0-0-5-3=8.
Yakutat was the second seed in the girls’ bracket, and the Lady Panthers knew this would be a tough one. Yakutat found the lane wide open for easy shots by Danielle Go and Janie Johnson in the first quarter and steadily built a huge halftime lead. Skagway finally got some shots to fall in the third quarter with Kiara Selmer sinking a bucket down low and Kara Whitehead going coast-to-coast and drawing the foul for a 3-point-play. Madison Cox also found her shot late in the game, banking in a 3-pointer.
Consolation Round: Hoonah 26, Skagway 23: HNH- Contreras 7, Stevenson 7, Roberts 7, Lockabey 4, Glover 1; SGY- Selmer 8, Cox 6, Jensen 3, Weber 2, Whitehead 2, Lahrman 2. HNH 6-8-8-4=26, SGY 5-5-8-5=23.
This was the kind of ball game Skagway had been waiting for all season. Hoonah, a young team like Skagway, was down to five players and missing its best one. The Panthers knew that they just needed to get enough points on the board and they’d have a shot at claiming their first victory of the season. Skagway was in it all the way. Cox and Selmer started off the scoring to keep the Hoonah lead to one after a quarter, and then Whitehead hit a free throw and Selmer scored on a drive to pull Skagway even 8-8 midway through the second quarter. A couple of missed shots and turnovers cost the Panthers a shot at the lead, and Hoonah capitalized to go back ahead. But Al Weber scored off an offensive rebound and Cox just missed at the halftime buzzer.
Skagway was down 14-10 to start the second half and closed the gap again after some free throws by Cox and another basket by Selmer. The Panthers cut the lead to two twice, as Mikah Lahrman got on the board as well.
Both teams were racking up fouls. Panthers point guard Hailey Jensen and leading rebounder Al Weber sat for several minutes after picking up their fourth fouls. But Hoonah was in worse shape and lost forward Krissy Lockabey right before the end of the third quarter, leaving them with just four players for the fourth quarter.
The math was in Skagway’s favor, but the lid closed on the bucket at the worse possible time. Hoonah somehow got a few shots to fall and built a 5-point lead with three minutes left. Skagway kept shooting and finally got a big one, a 3-pointer by Jensen, with 12 seconds left to cut the lead to 25-23. But Hoonah was then able to get the ball up the court before Skagway could foul to stop the clock, as Jensen was whistled for her fifth. After the Braves’ Ronie Roberts hit a free throw, Skagway had to go the length of the court in just 3 seconds, and it just wasn’t meant to be. There were tears on the Skagway sideline for getting so close to a win.
Final thoughts from coach Jess Callies:
“The girls finished their season with their best game. Though it was a bittersweet loss as it came down to the final seconds, it gave us the experience we needed to gain the confidence in making the right decisions next time we are in a close game like that. The team recognizes what they need to work on in the off-season to be a stronger competitor in our region next season and, lucky for us, we don’t lose any of our players. There were so many highlights to our last couple games: being more confident with the dribble, driving in, drawing fouls and playing more physically all around. Al Weber has become more and more of a force in the lane. Kara Whitehead is relentless on both ends of the court. Hailey Jensen and Madison Cox are a great ball-handling tandem. They can also both shoot well from the perimeter. Kiara Selmer hit some key jumpers for us. Mocha Lahrman, our sixth man who barely hits five-foot is always up for the task of pulling down some rebounds. Dainean Teeluk is also a force underneath. Delaney Rau and McKenna Rau have improved by leaps and bounds in just over two months. They are hard workers and I am excited to see what they can do this offseason. It’s been a great first season. Thanks for the support from the school, the parents and the community. The girls and I appreciate it.”
Alex Ackerman got the crowd stirring with his free throw shooting on the final day. Alex was first up in the contest and made 16-of-25, but it was discovered that he had used a girl’s ball. After all the shooters from other teams finished, he was allowed to shoot again. This time Alex hit 19-for-25 and tied Sterling Moore of Kake for the lead. In the shoot-off, both hit 5-for-5 to start off the round, but then Alex missed one in the next five and Moore made them all. Madison Cox tied for second in the 3-point shooting contest for the girls.
Hailey Jensen’s steady floor leadership over the course of the season earned her a spot on the All-Conference Team. Other award winners were Skagway’s representatives on the Good Sports Team: Ackerman and Colton Belisle for the boys, and Al Weber and Kiara Selmer for the girls.