An unlikely pairing helped tip-off the Princess Cruises Capital City Classic at Juneau-Douglas High School on Thursday afternoon.
Barrow High School, hailing from the northernmost tip of Alaska, took the court against Maine-Endwell High School, a medium-size school several thousand miles to the east in Binghamton, New York. After falling behind in the first half, the Whalers surged ahead in the third quarter to win 73-69.
“I told them there’s nothing we can do but fight back. Our back’s against the ropes, so we just have to play hard,” Barrow coach Daniel Thomas said. “We started picking it up on defense. One of our mottos is defense will win you the game. So when we started to focus on that, changing up the defense, then (offense) started to flow a little easier.”
Barrow junior Anthony Fruean scored 28 points to lead the Whalers, while MEHS junior Jack Coleman put in 18 points for the Spartans.
For both teams the week will be as much about experiencing a new culture as winning a basketball tournament.
Maine-Endwell bussed from Binghamton to Newark, New Jersey, on Christmas night, flying from there to Seattle on Wednesday morning before arriving in Juneau early in the afternoon on Wednesday.
Senior Gannon Russell, who scored 11 points, said the mountains in New York are “hills compared to what we’re seeing right now.”
“I think it’s cool because it’s on most people’s bucket list to come here,” Russell said. “Not many people get to come here and we were fortunate enough to come here and play basketball and be able to visit a part of the country most people don’t get to see.”
Russell said he started taking pictures of the scenery the minute he stepped off the plane. It’s safe to say many of his teammates followed suit.
“The mountains — I’ve never ever seen anything like it. I mean that, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Coleman said. “You look that way and there’s a mountain, you look anywhere pretty much and there’s a mountain.”
The Whalers scored four quick baskets to start the second half to lead 39-31, and MEHS coach Bill Ockner called a timeout with 6:45 remaining in the third quarter. The Spartans would cut it to 41-37, but the Whalers answered with an 8-0 run to go back up double-digits.
East Anchorage versus Barrow
East Anchorage picked right up where they left off from last year’s Capital City Classic. The Thunderbirds, who won all three of their games last year, put away Barrow 48-43, in the first of 12 tournament games.
The Thunderbirds’ lead dwindled from 12 to two in the third quarter and relied on Kristi Anderson to stay in front in the fourth quarter. Anderson scored four unanswered baskets to help the Thunderbirds keep up their unblemished mark.
The Thunderbirds won over 20 games last season and finished in third-place at the state tournament behind Dimond and Wasilla. But the team is virtually all new this season.
“We’re in a rebuilding phase,” East Coach Laura Ingham said. “There’s nothing that’s going to be easy or given to us this year. Everything is going to be a dogfight. Just as you saw that game, that was not easy, we had to fight for that.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.