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By JOE JUDD
Daily News Sports Editor
They left everything the had on the court, but the Ketchikan High School boys basketball team will have to wait another year for a shot at a Region V title after falling 58-53 to Juneau-Douglas High School on Saturday night at the Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium in the penultimate tournament championship game.
With the victory, the Crimson Bears are the 2018 Region V (4A) boys champions and have simultaneously punched their ticket to compete in the Alaska School Activities Association First National Bank State Basketball Tournament beginning on March 22 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
After the tournament-concluding contest, Kayhi head coach Eric Stockhausen commended the way his team fought until the final second.
“I thought our kids played with every bit of heart that a coach could possibly ask for,” Stockhausen said. “We gave ourselves a chance.”
Wearing their road maroon uniforms despite playing on their home court, the Kings did all they could to send their supporters to the parking lot with smiles on the faces.
In the end, they might have done that — only the smiles were more bittersweet than celebratory.
As was the case in the first championship game played the night before, both teams cranked up their intensity to maximum levels and fed off their fan bases all night long.
There was little to no separation to speak of on the scoreboard during the first half, as the Kings and Crimson Bears fought their way to a 12-12 tie after one quarter, and were apart by six points as they made their way to the locker rooms at the half.
Virtually every Juneau-Douglas strike in the opening 16 minutes of play was quickly matched or bested by Kayhi moments later and vice versa.
Despite a halftime lead, the Crimson Bears turned the ball over 13 times in the first half, compared to six turnovers committed by the Kings.
With all 10 Kayhi and JDHS starters back on the hardwood to start the second half a region championship was still a long way from being decided.
The Kings never had a lead in the third quarter, but also did not trail by more than eight points during this eight-minute span of basketball.
As the fourth and final quarter of basketball for the year on the Cochrane Gym court ticked away, intensity among the two fan bases grew to a fever pitch, as the rival student sections and pep bands seemed to fuel the on-court action.
After consistently trailing by at least five points in the final frame, Kayhi sophomore Kristian Pihl sank a corner 3-pointer and was fouled in the process, which sent him to the free-throw line, where he proceeded to trim the Kings’ deficit to just a field goal by depositing both ends of the one-and-one through the bottom of the net.
This came with 4:13 remaining on the clock in regulation, and was Kayhi’s final breath on this particular night.
Pihl’s five-point swing was as close as the Kings would get to taking the lead for the rest of the night. Juneau-Douglas did just enough in the final four minutes to come away on top, as Kayhi was forced to foul when the minutes turned into seconds.
“There were really two or three plays that the game came down to, and we just couldn’t catch a break at those key times,” Stockhausen said.
Throughout the game, Juneau’s height advantage became increasingly apparent. This made Kayhi work twice as hard in the low post to secure offensive and defensive rebounds.
“Juneau did a great job. Their size was a problem for us all season,” Stockhausen said. “We played seven games with them that all ended tight.”
In the end, it was the Crimson Bears who were more efficient at wiping the glass clean; JDHS came down with nine offensive boards in the third quarter alone, as Juneau’s two-headed monster of seniors Erik Kelly and Kasey Watts proved to be a handful for the Kings.
Kelly’s 20 points paced Juneau-Douglas, as his double-double performance was a thorn in Kayhi’s side from the opening tip.
Watts chalked up eight points and went 4-for-8 from the foul line, while senior Kolby Hoover scored 14 points and had an identical 50 percent-shooting line in the free-throw department.
Even with no time left for a comeback in the final moments of the game, Kayhi junior Marcus Lee sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
This made the final 58-53 instead of 58-50. At face value, the shot might not look like much and can be glanced over in the stat sheet, but this kind of play and attitude has been symbolic of Stockhausen’s team all season long.
“Our kids kept a great attitude all year, and just never gave up,” Stockhausen said. “That’s kind of the calling card of this team — they have a lot of character and showed a lot of heart in every single game they played.”
No seniors on this year’s Kayhi squad means the same group will hit the court for the Kings next season.
Stockhausen called his team an “open book” with still a year-plus to coach this group of kids, as the offseason officially begins for the boys.
At the end of the day, it goes a lot farther for Stockhausen than shooting percentages and how much a player improved his crossover during the summer.
After this season, Stockhausen said he thinks his kids can handle any challenge thrown their way.
“This is way bigger than basketball,” Stockhausen said,” “We’re trying to help kids grow into the young men that their parents would want them to be. Dealing with adversity — I think we can check that one off the list.”
Kayhi: Chris Lee 20, Marcus Lee 19, Kristian Pihl 7, Jake Taylor 5, James Nordlund 2.
Juneau-Douglas: Erik Kelly 20, Kolby Hoover 14, Kasey Watts 8, Luke Mallinger 6, Phillip Gonzales 4, Cooper Kriegmont 2, LJ Elizarde 2, Krishant Samtani 2.