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For the last four years Wrangell High School coach Cody Angerman and his Wolves have fallen to the Petersburg Vikings in the runner-up game to determine the second Southeast seed that advances to the state tournament.
On Saturday, the fifth time was a charm as Wrangell toppled Petersburg 45-41 in the 2023 Region V 2A/4A Basketball Tournament at Juneau’s Thunder Mountain High School.
“To come out on top is a new feeling for sure,” Angerman said. “It feels amazing. My seniors have been with me all four years so to have this moment for them is obviously all I wanted. To come to the tournament and play the best basketball of all season is all we asked for. It is always who comes prepared and who is the best team at the time. And we were tonight.”
The first quarter was one of contested shots and hard knocks as Wrangell took an 8-4 lead after eight minutes of action with two long shots made by senior Jacen Hay and multiple free throws by senior Ethan Blatchley who battled in the paint.
The 2023 Wrangell seniors have played together since kindergarten and they called themselves the “Wolfpups” and middle school “Wolfpack” and now state-bound “Wolves.”
“It’s a lot, it really is,” Blatchley said of the win. “I know the last five or six years we have been going against them for this second place game to State and every year we have lost. It was a really good game. It means a lot to do this for our coach because he has never been to state. I think overall it is just a good vibe, good energy going around.”
That energy spilled into the second quarter as Petersburg seniors Kyle Biggers and Jack Engell made life difficult inside for Wrangell, so the Wolves found Hay outside and he continued his hot streak of deep shots, accounting for 7 points in the stanza.
“It’s huge,” Hay said of the win. “It means a lot because it is the first time our coach has gone to state. We’ve gotten to this point every year. The second elimination game and losing to go home and last year we lost by four points. This year it finally feels good to get the win and go on up to state.”
Hay led Wrangell with 18 points in the game including three shots past the arch.
“Oh it’s fun,” Hay said. “Just the crowd’s energy feels so good, everything feels so good about it…”
Petersburg would stay in the contest with a deep shot by senior Owen Anderson, a put back by Engell and a drive by junior Rik Cumps. Wrangell’s Blatchely would hold his ground to take a charging foul from Petersburg’s Biggers to send the Wolves into the half with an 18-13 lead.
“We knew it was going to be physical,” Angerman said. “Our struggle has been in the third quarter. We come out flat at times. I think we have some free throws to work on that’s for sure. But defensively we just come out and do our job. We try to play one quarter at a time. At the half I told them ‘We have to win the third quarter and play as good of D as we can. I think our offense is going to come but let’s just play solid defense…’ I think that is what won us the ball game. We did a much better job of rebounds in the second half as well.”
Wrangell opened the second half with a steal by sophomore Daniel Harrison who fed senior Delyn Campbell for a layup.
“Yeah it is nice to do this for our coach,” Campbell said of the win. “He’s done this game against Petersburg for five years in a row and lost every time so this is pretty big for us. And we have played together since kindergarten and first grade, forever. In elementary school we realized we were pretty good. We thought we could be a decent team…”
Wrangell’s Hay, sophomore Kyan Stead, Blatchley and Campbell would exchange baskets down the stretch with Petersburg’s Engell, Biggers, Anderson and Cumps.
Biggers scored and was fouled and made the free throw to give Petersburg a 30-29 lead with a minute remaining in the third quarter.
Wrangell’s Campbell hit a runner to retake the lead, 31-30, and added a free throw for a 32-30 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Petersburg took their last lead of the game as Biggers opened the final stanza with a made basket and foul shot for a 33-32 advantage.
Wrangell went on an 8-0 run on scores by Hay, Harrison and Stead and Petersburg countered with a score by Engell to close to 40-35.
Petersburg started to foul to slow the clock.
Wrangell’s Stead hit one of two from the line for a 41-35 lead.
Petersburg’s Engell hit inside to cut the lead to 41-37.
Wrangell’s Harrison hit one of two with under two minutes remaining, and Stead did the same for a 43-37 lead. Campbell hit two free throws for a 45-37 lead with 24 seconds remaining and Petersburg’s Engell scored inside to close the gap to 45-39.
Wrangell would miss four straight free throws in the last 14 seconds and Petersburg’s Cumps hit a last second shot to close to the score of 45-41.
“It means a lot,” Wrangell senior Leroy Wynne said of the win. “We worked so hard for this. Ever since we picked up a basketball we have been working towards this moment and we’re finally here and we capitalized on it. We’re ready for state. We knew it was going to be a dogfight. Every game we’ve had with these guys has been within a few points.”
Wynne said he didn’t remember much about kindergarten games, “but I just know I loved it and we kept with it and look at where we are now… going to state.”
Hay led Wrangell with 18 points, Campbell added 11, Harrison seven, Blatchley five, and Stead four.
The Wolves hit 13-27 at the line, the Vikings hit 3-7.
“This is one of the most difficult games to play after you fight as hard as we did last night and you are physically and emotionally spent,” Petersburg coach Rick Brock said. The Vikings lost 42-36 to Metlakatla on Friday in the championship game. “It is difficult to bounce back the next day… and throw on top of that, this is the sixth time we have played that team this season. We know each other so well. It just comes down to playing basketball and their kids made shots and we didn’t. I’m very proud of our guys for the body of work they have done this year. I told them, ‘One of the things that is important in life is to earn other people’s respect…’ And I had so many people comment on how they played yesterday and all season and I think they have the respect of people around Southeast that they are a team that is going to fight and battle.”
Brock noted he had words of wisdom for Angerman and the Wolves as they head to state.
“Just enjoy it guys,” Brock said. “It is such an honor and privilege to get to go there. You are one of the best eight teams in the state. You have earned it and you should enjoy it.”
Biggers led Petersburg with 17 points, Engell added 10, Anderson six, Cumps four, junior Hunter Conn three, and Kieran Cabral one.
Wrangell senior Randy Churchill was dedicating the tournament to his father, Randy Churchill Jr., who passed away recently in a logging accident. His father graduated in 2002. He wore No.13 on the court like grandpa Randy Churchill Sr. did in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. They both wrestled.
“Well, my dad never made it to state,” Randy Churchill (III) said. “He always wanted me to play basketball and I didn’t take to it at first but I enjoyed playing with my friends.”
Randy Churchill III won a state wrestling championship this year with his father in attendance.
“And we won state for cross country,” he said. “And we’re looking to go get the triple crown. I am so happy we are going to state. We have been around each other forever. We would do anything for each other.”
Coach Angerman was a junior in high school when Randy Churchill Jr. was a freshman.
“It was important for us to have Randy (III) on this trip,” Angerman said. “He wanted to be with his friends, he has been on the team all year. Randy and Ethan (Blatchley) were both cross country and wrestling champions, and Devlyn (Campbell) a cross country champ, and, of course, Daniel (Harrison) was the No. 1 cross country runner in the state… At the beginning of the year we said, ‘let’s get you guys to state, we have the opportunity to be three-time state champs in a year…’ Obviously the community was hit pretty hard with the tragedy. I know Randy (III) really wants to get something for his dad and I think, overall, at the end of the day we’re all kind of thinking that in the back of our heads.”
Angerman said he sees the similarity in his former teammate and in his current player.
“The same fire, oh yeah,” he said. “They both have their own unique personalities for sure but there are definitely some things that have rubbed off from the old man for sure. I definitely see it.”