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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
Head coach Eric Stockhausen said that he’d learn a lot about what direction his Ketchikan High School boys basketball team is headed following this past week’s Alaska Prep Shootout in Anchorage.
Kayhi might have lost all three games, but the coach said what he saw convinced him the Kings are still trending up.
"Thursday was frustrating ... but the outlook got brighter on Friday, and even brighter Saturday," said Stockhausen, whose team fell 72-57 on Saturday to Grace Christian. "Overall, I’d say we played 28-29 minutes of good basketball (Saturday), which is quite a leap for us."
After poor shot selection led to a 35-percent clip in Thursday’s 62-47 loss to Chugiak, Kayhi got more selective, and shot 45.7 percent Friday in a loss to Dimond and a season-best 48.8 percent Saturday.
"They are starting to get the message," Stockhausen said. "It was huge growth for our kids."
The only problem Saturday was that, while Kayhi shot nearly 50 percent, Grace was above 50 percent — a feat the Grizzlies accomplished despite taking half their shots from behind the 3-point line.
Leading the way for Grace was point guard Eric Johnson, who Stockhausen described as the team’s "third or fourth scoring option."
The Kings were ready to stop a potential scoring barrage from Hans Karlberg — who finished with 17 — but were left trying to stop a dominating offensive performance from Johnson.
The junior was 11-of-14 from the field — including 7-of-8 on 3s — and was 6-of-6 from the foul line en route to a game-high 35 points.
"He was very opportunistic," Stockhausen said. "They weren’t running any plays for him or anything."
Stockhausen said the Kings made sure to have a body on Johnson, who scored in spurts, including eight in the second quarter to turn a 19-13 Kayhi lead into a 36-28 halftime advantage for Grace.
"You see the higher shooting percentages when there’s no pressure," Stockhausen said. "I don’t think that was the case with our kids. It was just a good job by him hitting some contested shots."
Despite the loss, the Kings had a breakout game of their own from senior Kable Lervick. The 6-0 guard scored 26 points on 7-of-12 from the field and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line.
The 26 points are a career-high for Lervick, and the highest single-game point total of the year for Kayhi — three more than Brien Auger’s 23 against Palmer at the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic.
"It didn’t really seem like I had that many," Lervick said. "It was just one of those days that the ball was going in. I really wanted to get out there and get it going. Everything was clicking."
For Stockhausen, it was the all-around performance from Lervick he knew the senior is capable of.
"It wasn’t just the offense," the coach said. "(Lervick’s) whole floor game was where we need him to play. It was what we’ve been working to get towards with him these past two years. It’s good to see him respond to the challenge."
Lervick, who came off the bench in each of the first two games of the Shootout, said he wanted to prove he could get the job done Saturday.
"It did help get me more focused on the game," said Lervick of not starting Thursday and Friday. "It got me a little angry, and it got me to go in there and really want to do my best."
Stockhausen said he didn’t bench Lervick per se, but was just trying to find the right combination for a team that’s struggled to get in a rhythm this season.
"It’s not about who starts, but who finishes," Stockhausen said. "Who starts with this group is not important."
On Saturday, the starting lineup of Lervick, Auger, Riley Gass, Isaiah Navales and Malik Almenzor helped give Kayhi a six-point lead, 19-13, heading into the second quarter.
However, the momentum swung Grace’s way in the following period, and the Grizzlies took the lead when Almenzor was whistled for a foul and a subsequent technical less than a minute into the quarter.
Grace converted on three of the four foul shots, and on the ensuing drive, Johnson hit one of his seven 3-pointers to put the Grizzlies up 23-19.
"It changed things, but we had time to fix it," said Stockhausen of Almenzor’s technical, which the coach described as "more of a bad catch than a slam (of the ball).
"He plays very intensely. That’s how he plays, and that’s how he got to be an All-Tournament selection. He does everything at full speed."
Almenzor finished with five points, as Kayhi also got scoring from Navales (6 points), Alex Pihl (6), Erwin Malabanan (5), Auger (3), Mo Bullock (2), Gass (2), and Omar Mendoza (2).
After trailing by as many as 19 in the third quarter, the Kings cut the lead to three, 55-52, on a field goal by Pihl with 6:56 left in the fourth. But Grace scored the next 13 points, and held on from there.
"The hard part for us right now is recognizing and controlling momentum," Stockhausen said. "On Saturday, the momentum swung, and it swung big. We’re in the process of learning how to control it, and that’s why this was such a great learning situation for us."
Kayhi fell to 5-9 on the year and has lost four straight, however, given how the Kings approached Friday’s and Saturday’s games — compared to losses earlier in the year — the team believes there’s reason for optimism.
"We felt like we were straying away from each other (after Thursday’s loss to Chugiak)," Lervick said. "So we came together, and talked about what we’ve got to do this second half of the season to get it going.
"People hear we went 0-3 and think, ‘Oh my, you guys didn’t do anything.’ But I thought it was really good for us, and we took tremendous steps from where we were before this trip."