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The Metlakatla High School Chiefs boys basketball team cheered their girls team to a championship on Friday night and then won their third in as many seasons with a 42-36 physical battle over the Petersburg Vikings.
“For us to bring both nets home, girls and boys, that is huge,” senior TJ Jackson said. “It is going to bring happiness to the town. We are considered a basketball community.”
That community was on hand, as was the Petersburg fan base, to watch a tough start with Metlakatla taking just a 6-3 advantage after eight minutes of action.
Jackson said the community was integral in the team’s development.
“When we are out of season we go play with the men down at the town hall,” he said. “As many days as they want. Whoever opens the gym we are there. It is always competitive because we all want to be better than each other, but we also want to win as a team, that is what keeps us competitive. If we all stay together this could be one of our best city league teams. As you could see tonight we had to come together. That was a good team we beat. We both played great but we made a couple more plays. I have a lot of respect for that Petersburg team. I try to have a lot of heart and soul for the team…”
Jackson had three rebounds, one block and scored on an inbounds play in the first period. Senior Cameron Gaube added two free throws and senior Shayne Anderson a basket. Petersburg seniors Kyle Biggers and Jack Engell had a basket and a free throw, respectively.
The two teams kept that same pace into the second quarter with Metlakatla leading 14-11 into the half behind eight points from senior Aaron O’brien.
Petersburg’s Biggers scored two tough shots inside in that second quarter and one free throw, junior Rik Cumps hit a shot and senior Owen Anderson notched two from the charity stripe.
“They are a very good basketball team with a very similar group of kids, a similar dynamic,” Metlakatla coach Tony Scott said. “They have bigs that are big and talented inside and they have athletic guards that can shoot and can get to the rim. We play similar styles so it makes our games drag-it-out slugfests. And they are always like that. I bet there were guys on the floor 25 times going for loose balls. They are super-intense-every-possession-matters basketball games. And Rick (Brock) is such a good coach. He came in and had something I had never seen before. I have coached against him for 11 years and he ran an offense I had never seen. So all the work we put into practicing for what they would do to us and they didn’t do it once… but our kids did a really good job defending it. My kids made some big plays down the stretch. Whenever they would get it to two or three or four points one of my kids would make a really big play and kind of extend it back out.”
Petersburg pulled to within one point at the start of the third quarter on an Engell rebound shot but Metlakatla went on a 9-2 run, including a dunk by Anderson for a 23-15 advantage. Engell had two more baskets and two free throws in the stanza as well.
Jackson and O’Brien hit a bucket in that stanza, Gaube a free throw, Anderson scored one of each, and senior Harvey Booth added two baskets and a free throw..
“You know it sounds simple, but we just didn’t score enough points,” Petersburg coach Rick Brock said. “Defensively they got down hill on us too many times in the second half. You can’t get down more than two possessions against those guys. Once they do that then you are gambling. I am proud of my guys, they fought and that is all you can ask. We just needed to score a few baskets earlier. They are so big and athletic and they make any look at a shot tough. Our kids fought and they have a lot of heart.”
Metlakatla closed the third quarter with baskets by Booth and Guabe. Petersburg junior Elijah Whitacre scored inside at the buzzer to trail 27-21.
Both teams pushed the pace in the final eight minutes of action with every made shot earned and every missed shot batted about numerous times in the air.
Petersburg closed to within 6 points on baskets by Engell and Cumps but Metlakatla answered with scores by Gaube and Booth.
With three minutes remaining in the game Metlakatla pushed their lead from six points out to 10 points, 39-29.
“I had to call a timeout,” Brock said. “That was big because now you only have two down the stretch and I knew we were going to have to foul and do things… that’s the ball game because playing from behind against those guys is extremely difficult to do.”
Engell would score on the next inbounds for Petersburg but Metlakatla senior Jayden Buhler answered for a 41-31 lead.
Cumps hit a pair of free throws for Petersburg and a jumper to close to 41-35 with 32 seconds remaining to play.
Metlakatla’s Booth hit a free throw for the Chiefs final 42nd point with 18 seconds left and Engell did the same for Petersburg with 12 seconds remaining for their 36th and final point.
“I feel pretty amazing that we won,” Metlakatla’s Gaube said. “It was our third time winning the Region championship and I hope we can go up to State and get the net and trophy too. This one is more special because it is my senior year and this is what we always wanted to do growing up, win a State title. This means a lot to Metlakatla. Basketball has been around that community since forever. It just brings joy to Metlakatla.”
Gaube was holding his infant daughter Paris.
“I am going to train her pretty hard,” he laughed. “So she can get a Region championship too.”
O’Brien and Booth led Metlakatla with 10 points apiece, Guava added nine, S. Anderson seven, Jackson four and Buhler two.
The Chiefs hit 10-15 at the free throw line, the Vikings 8-13.
Engell led Petersburg with a game-high 13 points, Biggers added 10, Cumps six, Whitacre, O. Anderson and junior Kieran Cabral two apiece, and Hunter Conn one.
Metlakatla coach Scott said any region title is sweet, “but I just see the work that’s been put in over the last few years with this group and how each one of them has improved the parts of their game they need to work on… and we needed every bit of that in this game. And it was really nice to go in the locker room and congratulate them after they won for all the hard work they put in over the last two years and how much better they have got and how we are ready to withstand a team that puts that kind of ball pressure on us. So it was pretty sweet, the last one always feels the best but there are some other ones that were pretty sweet too…”
Metlakatla will be the top Southeast seeded team in the March Madness Alaska State Basketball Tournament in Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage beginning Wednesday.
Petersburg will play against Wrangell at 4:45 p.m. Saturday for the second berth to state.
“They are a good team and will make some noise at state,” Metlakatla coach Scott said. “But they have a tough one tomorrow because Wrangell is a really good team, but they have all the makings for a State run. Who knows? We may be seeing them again… the kids had to dig deep. They had to find a new gear today and they did it and I’m proud of them. I am proud of all the kids.”