Yakutat couldn’t afford a slow start in their Thursday morning game in the Masters Bracket.
Not when your opponent is Hoonah, the de facto home team of the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament who feeds off its fans’ energy more than any other team.
So Yakutat wisely went with one their biggest strengths — 3-point shooting — to help quiet the opposing fans who populated the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé gymnasium just before 10 a.m. Yakutat defeated Hoonah 73-62 for their second win in a row. Gary Klushken, Jerry Riddlington, Frank Jack III and Bob Rockwood all knocked down 3-pointers in the first half. Two more victories— one Friday and one Saturday — and Yakutat could win their first-ever Masters championship.
“We were just concentrated on playing defense and working the ball around,” Jack III said. “Our first game we were kind of standing around, so we made a conscious effort to work the ball around and make them work on defense to try to tire them out.”
Riddlington led all scorers with 21 points, scoring eight of his final 12 at the free-throw line. Klushken added 18 points and Jack III had 15 points.
Kamal Lindoff had 17 points for Hoonah, which won the Masters Bracket championship in 2015 and 2017.
“We lost a close one to the Klukwan team to put us in the loser’s bracket,” Hoonah’s Albert Hinchman, 46, said. “I think at this age you want to go through the winner’s bracket so you don’t have to play from Wednesday on to Saturday. Personally, I’ve been injured a few weeks so I didn’t get my training time in and I think it’s just a little lack of playing together.”
Yakutat went up 21-16 after the first quarter and began widening its lead in the second. Hoonah came storming back though, coming within 30-29 before Yakutat responded with another run. After leading 38-33 at halftime, Yakutat remained aggressive on offense, which led to repeated trips to the foul line.
“We’ve been working hard the last couple of years to try to get further along in the tournament,” Jack III said. “Things are working out this year.”
After the loss, Hinchman publicly recognized teammate Louie White Sr., who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010. White retired from playing last season, but Hinchman thought the team could use him another season.
“With the injury bug we had coming up to this, we talked him into coming back,” Hinchman said. “Kind of wanted him to go out on a good note, but we came, we tried, and hats off to the better team today.”
Haines duo too much for Hoonah
Haines’ Fran Daly and Rachel Brittenham hadn’t stepped on the basketball court together prior this year’s Gold Medal Basketball Tournament.
Daly is a third-year Gold Medal participant; Brittenham is a rookie. But through just three games, the tandem is performing at a level that would suggest years of shared court time and hoops accolades. In Haines’ 53-33 victory on Thursday morning, Daly scored 30 points and was Brittenham’s favorite target. The former Wofford College point guard found Daly time and time again behind the Hoonah defense.
“That second game I felt like we really started to connect, even as a whole team, getting some better ball movement and offensive pressure going,” Daly said. “It’s fun to play with her.”
Mariah Martin scored all 13 of Hoonah’s third-quarter points, bringing them within 30-25. But Daly and Brittenham scored the final four points of the third quarter and limited Martin to just four points in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t have crisp passes and it’s really hard to win a game when you have that many turnovers,” Martin said. “Haines has a good group of girls, a good core, they run the floor. I thought we could’ve hung with them a little bit better and it just didn’t happen.”
Daly graduated from Haines High School in 2010 and jumped into the Gold Medal mix when she moved back home three years ago. Haines and Klukwan bring some of the largest numbers of players down for the annual tournament, and two years ago captured titles in the B, C and Women’s Brackets.
“I always like coming to play in Gold Medal,” Daly said. “It gets a little intense sometimes, but that’s OK.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.