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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
Kelly Smith is an emotional guy when it comes to the game of basketball.
And when coaching the Ketchikan High School Lady Kings, the heat of the moment can bring out all sorts of emotions.
“(I get) excited, fiery, mad, frustrated,” he said. “They get all of it.”
But moments before the Region V 4A championship game at Mt. Edgecumbe High School on Friday morning, Smith was none of those things.
The coach who wears his heart on his sleeve for a game he loves had his team take a collective deep breath.
“Before the game, he turned off the lights, and had us relax,” Kayhi's Jenae Rhoads said. “And (he) gave us an inspirational speech. It just made us feel relaxed and calm, and ready for the game.”
It's something that he's done for the past five region championship games — and the Lady Kings have won every single one of them.
“We actually have this pregame meditation that we do before every championship game,” he said. “And I have a whole process. I got them in the room, and actually, I read them a little quote.
“I read to them, 'The bond that links your true family is not one of blood. But of respect and joy in each other's life,'” Smith said. “Then I kind of said some stuff, and that was the last thing I closed with. I walked out, and said, 'Let's go win a basketball game.'”
And for the sixth straight time, the Lady Kings did just that.
The No. 2 seeded Kayhi Lady Kings defeated the No. 1 seeded Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears 47-43 to win its region title. They advance to the state tournament in Anchorage later this month.
“If you would've told me this was the scenario after the Clarke Cochrane (tournament), I would've told you you were crazy,” Smith said. “What these kids have come together and done, man. They deserve all of the credit. It's awesome.”
Juneau-Douglas jumped out to a 17-11 lead after the first eight minutes. But Kayhi remained calm.
“I thought our kids stayed poised the entire game,” Smith said. “They didn't look rattled; they looked confident. We made mistakes; everybody's going to make mistakes. But that was a very good high school girls' basketball game.”
The Lady Kings began to make their push in the second quarter.
Rhoads knocked in a trio of buckets in the second frame. The 5'11” freshman nearly had a double-double in points and rebounds. And Ashley Huffine — Kayhi's lone senior in the starting lineup — nailed a long three with 30 seconds left in the quarter to inch the Lady Kings closer 23-20 at the break.
“Our coach was talking to Dyllan (Borer) and I at halftime, (and said) that we needed to get rebounds,” Rhoads said. “We were starting to lose because we were down in rebounds. And that just drove Dyllan and me to get even more — to push back harder, and jump higher.”
The battle under the boards put Juneau-Douglas in foul trouble, which put Kayhi at the line. The Lady Kings hit 10-of-12 freebies.
“(Juneau) was in so much foul trouble, I thought Juneau did a nice job,” Smith said. “We wanted the ball because they were in foul trouble. And I thought they did a nice job playing keep away from us. We felt like we could really attack them with Alyxn (Bohulano) and Jenae Pusich, who are two of their best on-ball defenders. And we felt like we could really attack them. But they did a nice job really keeping away from us.”
But then Huffine began to light up the scoreboard some more, as she finished with a game-high 20 points.
“Even during warmups, I had a feeling it was going to be a big game because I play for the girls who (are injured),” Huffine said. “When I'm on, I can tell. The first shot in warmups, I'm just like, 'Let's go guys. It's going to be a good game.' And it was.”
Indeed it was. Because after halftime the Lady Kings took a 34-29 lead into the fourth quarter. And they celebrated at the final buzzer.
Kayhi started the season 2-4 out of the gate, and with junior fireball Madison Rose on the sideline due to injury.
Once she returned in January, senior leader Payton Simmons went down with a torn ACL. A couple weeks later, senior post player Emmie Smith dislocated her shoulder.
The bumps and bruises through a season were taking a toll. But Kayhi wouldn't be denied.
Because at the final buzzer the Lady Kings were crowned region champs.
It was something even Smith couldn't believe.
“I laid there until about 1 a.m. thinking about what I was going to say to the girls,” he said. “And now, I'm like, I can't believe that just happened.”
Smith's words were perfect. And the family of Lady Kings took their lead from their coach.
“It was the (calmest) game I've ever played in, like just from the beginning,” Huffine said. “We all wanted it so bad. And we just came together perfectly. It was so cool.”
Region V Championship Scoring Line
Kayhi: Ashley Huffine, 20; Jenae Rhoads, 10; Madison Rose, 8; Lianne Guevarra, 7; Dyllan Borer, 2.
Juneau-Douglas: Caitlin Pusich, 16; Sadie Tuckwood, 13; Jenae Pusich, 6; Alyxn Bohulano, 5; Kiana Potter, 3.