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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
Eric Stockhausen was soaking wet. But completely drenched in his grey sports coach, Ketchikan High School’s basketball coach had a giant grin on his face. He happily wiped the water from his brow.
“I walked into the locker room, and it’s quiet,” he said. “And (the team is) just sitting there, and they all have their piece of (basket) rope in their mouth. And I didn’t notice that they each had two cups of water. And I know that those cups don’t have water now.”
Stockhausen’s Kings got him — and got him good — as they celebrated in their locker room after a 66-60 victory over Juneau-Douglas High School. The win at Mt. Edgecubme High School sends Kayhi to the state tournament in Anchorage this month, as the Kings were crowned Region V 4A champions on Friday.
“I’m happy for the kids,” Stockhausen said. “They really worked hard. ... They come to work every day; they come to practice every day with a good attitude. And they enjoy playing with each other, and enjoy playing the way we play.
“So for them to have success like the way they did today — we had to struggle through some adversity — and we had kids rise up at the right times,” he continued. “I’m very proud of the kids.”
Kayhi bounced back from an early 7-3 deficit, to take a 19-13 lead after the first quarter. The Kings’ Kristian Pihl lit up the scoreboard with a pair of threes within the first eight minutes, and finished the first half with five 3-pointers.
“I told Marcus (Lee), I said, ‘Kristian hasn’t missed a shot at warmups. Give him the ball,’” Stockhausen said. “And his teammates did that.”
Pihl continued to stay hot in the game. He finished the day with a team-high 20 points.
“Warmups, I was feeling good,” the Kings’ sharpshooter said. “After going 0-for-whatever on Wednesday, I just really tried to go back to basics — just start from the legs, and work up. And it worked.”
Indeed, it did work.
“It helps when the ball’s going in,” Pihl said. “But it wasn’t just me. It was everyone. We needed everyone to win, and everyone stepped up.”
Nearly every King who entered the game scored. Kayhi had nine different players record points.
“Every guy here, like Gavin Salazar, gets in the game, and immediately disrupts and gets a steal,” Stockhausen said. “Every guy that we put in had an impact.”
That “next man up” mentality has been with Kayhi since the beginning of the season. And the Kings’ chemistry has clicked from the get-go. Instead of a team of individuals, Kayhi plays as one collective group.
“I wouldn’t want to do this with any other group,” Wyatt Barajas said. “I mean, this is so fun. I’ve grown up with these kids for so long. We’ve been playing basketball together since like pee-wee. Our dads coached us and stuff. I wouldn’t want to do this with anybody else.”
And being around each other for so long has allowed the Kings to think and act as one.
“You know what’s funny, is at times I wonder if they don’t share the same brain,” Stockhausen said. “And that’s why we’re having a lot of fun. They’ve got great chemistry. And they’re doing really well.”
The Region V 4A championship game played out similar to a microcosm of the Kings’ season.
After jumping ahead 19-13 in the first quarter, helped by Pihl’s shooting and a pair of dunks from Chris Lee, Kayhi had a hiccup late in the second quarter, defensively. Juneau-Douglas closed the first half on a 13-3 run through the final three minutes. Despite that, however, the Kings still carried a 42-36 lead at the break.
Likewise, the Kings started the season winning five of their first six games — all of which were home games — before hitting a bump on the road. Kayhi had a 3-6 stretch in January.
“(Juneau) had just gone on a big run,” Stockhausen said. “Mentally, we got caught up in the moment. And (we) were throwing the ball away; we were missing shots. We just weren’t handling it. And we’re better than that. When emotion takes over, you sometime lose yourself. And at halftime, the best thing was we had a six-point lead, and we just played an atrocious (few) minutes, so we should feel fortunate to be here. It’s 0-0, so let’s go out, and close the deal.”
And that’s exactly what they did.
After allowing the Crimson Bears to score 23 points in the second quarter, the Kings shut down Juneau-Douglas’ offense, holding them to just 10 points in the third quarter.
“You have to be really mentally strong; it comes down to mental toughness,” Marcus Lee said. “And that’s just what it is to play in big games like this, in front of a (hundreds) of people. Credit to (Juneau). They had to play (on back-to-back days). They showed some toughness out there, as well. But we stuck it out.”
Just like the Kings stuck out their season.
Kayhi didn’t allow the hiccup in January to collapse on its goal of a regional title, and state playoff berth. Instead, the Kings overcame it.
Kayhi closed out the season winning nine of its final 10 games — both on the road, and at home — and at the end of the day hoisted a championship plaque.
“I’ve been waiting for this feeling since I was a little kid, watching all of the other kids ahead of me,” Pihl said. “And I just — I just can’t describe this feeling.”
Notes: At the end of the regional title game, the scoreboard read 65-60 in favor of the Kings. But after official tallies had been counted, tournament administrators determined that a Kings’ free throw wasn’t shown on the board, and gave Kayhi a 66-60 championship victory.
Region V Championship
Kayhi: Kristian Pihl, 20; Chris Lee, 15; Marcus Lee, 11; Jake Taylor, 6; Cody Kemble, 4; Kyle Smith, 3; Wyatt Barajas, 3; Robert Hilton-Seludo, 2; Gavin Salazar, 2.
Juneau-Douglas: Phillip Gonzales, 21; Cooper Kriegmont, 14; Krishant Samanti, 12; Israel Yadao, 4; Brock McCormick, 4; Tristan Bryant, 4; Garrett Bryant, 1.