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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
With leading scorer Jayley Taylor sitting out Sunday’s third-place game for religious reasons, everybody knew the Ketchikan High School girls basketball team’s starting lineup was going to undergo a change.
Nobody predicted it to be so radical.
"I looked at somebody and said, 'I'm either going to look like a genius or an idiot really quick,’" said Kayhi head coach Kelly Smith, who granted three players their first start of the season — two of whom were freshmen.
Instead of Taylor, Brooke Simmons and Lizzie Carson, Smith inserted Cassidy Patton, Charley Edwardson and Alexis Biggerstaff to join usual starters Bayley Lindgren and Mikayla Brown-Harrison.
The results were a 16-6 lead after one quarter — 11 of which came from the combination of Patton, Edwardson and Biggerstaff — and a 45-37 win over Klawock.
"That first group executed my plan perfectly: Come in, don't turn the ball over, take open shots," Smith said, "and then I'll bring Brooke and Alexis Crellin in and we'll sick 'em."
After the starters spotted them the lead, the Lady Kings clamped down on defense and ran the Lady Chieftains weary. Cassi Williams, Klawock’s 3-point specialist who was the main reason the 1A school knocked off 4A Palmer Thursday, was held to 10 points — none of which came behind the arc.
"Not as many teams play as fast as we do," Smith said. "When you don't practice that way, and you're not very deep, the legs go. The shots become harder to hit."
On offense, Kayhi hit shots from the start, something it struggled to do in Friday’s frustrating loss to Gig Harbor (Wash.). Against Klawock, the Lady Kings made 14 field goals, including nine in the first half.
"Never in my coaching girls career have I told them not to shoot the ball," Smith said. "I was so frustrated Friday night. We played our tails off on defense, but we stood there on offense.
"The most important thing was the tempo."
A pair of freshmen led the way in scoring for Kayhi, as Eliah Anderson came off the bench to score a team-high 14 points, and Biggerstaff added a late free throw to two first-quarter 3-pointers to finish with seven.
With Williams struggling to sink the 3-ball, Klawock turned to fellow senior Tonya Busse, who hit seven field goals and finished with a game-high 16.
"Tonya's our spark plug," said Klawock head coach Julie Horpestad. "When we get rattled, she's the one that gets us back in check. She's our rock."
Busse scored eight points in the second quarter alone to keep the Lady Chieftains close, but a pair of free throws from Edwardson gave the Lady Kings a 26-20 lead at halftime.
Kayhi’s press took over from there, as junior Alexis Crellin made Klawock work for every inch on the court, and helped cause 14 second-half turnovers.
"I challenge anyone to come to practice and try to run with Alexis Crellin," Smith said. "You can't do it. They have two of the top players in the state at any level, and she gives anyone fits in the full court."
The Lady Kings held the Lady Chieftains to six points in the fourth quarter as Klawock, a team of just eight players, ran out of steam.
"All of our girls are volleyball players, and they go to state every year, which is a two-week overlap," Horpestad said. "For the first two weeks of basketball season, I don't have a team. So you can see, we're not in shape yet. I wish this tournament was a month later. We just didn't have a lot of gas left."
Klawock went 1-2 in the tournament, and finished fifth. Its one win came at the buzzer against 4A Palmer, a team that went on to finish fourth.
"Now's the time to lose," Horpestad said. "Hanging with 4A schools, and not losing by any more than 10 or 12 points, that's a good experience. It's only going to help us."
As for Kayhi, the tournament provided its first two wins of the season, including one that came without its leading scorer and on the heels of a demoralizing loss.
"We turned a corner (Sunday)," Smith said. "It would have been so easy to say, 'Well, Jayley's not here and yada yada.' But they didn't. They didn't get wrapped up in winning or losing; they just focused on getting better."
The Lady Kings host Thunder Mountain Friday and Saturday, but likely will do so without Patton. The senior wing suffered a right knee injury in the fourth quarter Sunday. The extent of the injury is expected to be determined later this week.