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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
Alex Pihl doesn’t have to go far to hear the doubt. It echoes in the hallways and lingers in his classrooms.
"I walk around school and people are like, 'Oh, you're not going to beat (Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain),'" the Kayhi sophomore said. "So we know we’ve got something to prove."
The frustrating part is that he can’t offer much of a counterpoint.
Not yet, at least.
"We can say all we want," he said, "but nothing matters until we show that we can do it."
Pihl and the Ketchikan High School boys basketball team get their chance to prove the critics wrong Tuesday, when the Kings face the Crimson Bears in the opening round of the 4A Southeast tournament at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka.
Kayhi is seeded last in the three-team bracket, and has dropped four straight conference games.
But the slate is wiped clean next week, as the Kings can erase an inconsistent three months if they peak for a five-day stretch from Tuesday to Saturday.
"We know we can beat them if we play our best ball," Pihl said. "Everybody is overlooking us, so hopefully we can slide under the radar."
Kayhi finished the regular season 2-6 in 4A Southeast play, and Juneau-Douglas came in just ahead at 3-5. Both teams are looking up to 7-1 Thunder Mountain, which faces the winner of Tuesday’s game Wednesday afternoon.
The Kings finished off the season last week on a winning note, taking two games from 2A Craig, and since have been game-planning for both Juneau squads.
"There were a few areas that Juneau and Thunder Mountain beat us repeatedly, and we've addressed those with some changes," said head coach Eric Stockhausen. "We're going to do some different things defensively … to keep them off balance."
According to Stockhausen, stopping penetration and rebounding will be key against either team — both of which hold an edge in height.
"It's more important to be set defensively, for us, than to be set offensively," he said. "When we have to rotate, we get put in bad positions for the rebound, and our stature doesn't let us get away with that."
Offensively, the Kings want to stay patient, wearing down the defense on every possession and working to create an open shot.
"Breaking down the defense will be key," Stockhausen said. "We need to control the pace of the game. We still want to be aggressive, and just make intelligent basketball decisions."
To drive home the idea that extended possessions lead to an extended postseason, Stockhausen charted every time his team completed at least two ball reversals — or cycles — compared to times his players tried to vary from the scheme.
"When we ran our offense, and we got the ball moving, our percentages went way up," Stockhausen said. "The guys want to be successful, but sometimes, when you're in it, you don't see it. Now looking at exactly what took place … they understand what makes more sense for us."
Kayhi also received an offensive boost this week when Kable Lervick returned to practice. The senior is the only King averaging more than 10 points per game in conference play, but found the end of the season in jeopardy when he was diagnosed with mononucleosis.
Lervick missed the series against Craig, and said he’s starting to regain energy after battling the illness for most of February.
"I feel a little sluggish," said Lervick Thursday, his first day back on the court. "Not 100 percent yet, but getting back into it."
Lervick said he was nervous his high school career might have been over when he heard the diagnosis. But after watching his team defeat the Panthers, he was determined to get back on the floor.
"It's too hard for me to just sit and watch," he said. "I wanted to come back as soon as I could."
Less than 24 hours after doctors cleared him, Lervick was back in practice.
Pihl said having the two-year starter back in the fold gives the team an emotional boost in addition to what the 6-0 guard brings come tip-off.
"He's one of our best players, so to have him back obviously helps," Pihl said. "He's not going to be 100 percent — nobody is 100 percent coming off two weeks of mono — but the emotional (aspect) is big."
Lervick’s return gives the Kings an experienced shooter who can get to the rim and create contact — although Stockhausen said he doesn’t want to rush the senior back too quickly.
"Kable, my assistants and I have to do a good job of monitoring his energy," the coach said. "He's obviously important to what we do, and we've got to be able to maximize his impact with the time we've got him. He'll probably get stronger throughout the week, which is great. We just need to find ways to extend the week so he can get his legs underneath him, and get his wind back."
Tuesday, the Kings play the Crimson Bears, a team that beat Kayhi twice by a combined 22 points in Juneau two weeks ago. It was against Juneau-Douglas that the Kings earned their only on-court 4A Southeast triumph — a 59-54 double-overtime win at home Jan. 26.
Kayhi picked up another win via forfeit in its first series of the season against the Falcons. Although Thunder Mountain won the game by 18, it conceded the loss to the Kings because it violated ASAA rules by playing someone too many quarters.
Aside from that, the Falcons have beaten Kayhi by margins of 16, 15, 6 and 19 — the last of which came on the Kings’ Senior Night.
But Kayhi wasn’t betting its entire season on Senior Night. That time comes next week in Sitka, where the Kings can find redemption as well as a ticket to their first state tournament in eight years.
"We've waited all year for this, and it's finally here," Pihl said. "We've been saying we can win it, and now it's time to show people that we can."