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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
Before the season began, the Ketchikan High School Kings set three goals for themselves — win a Region V championship, bring home the Southeast title, and become Kayhi’s first boys’ basketball team to win a state championship in nearly half a century.
The first two were complete.
Kayhi brought home the Region V championship after beating Juneau-Douglas High School 66-60, and won the Southeast title after defeating Metlakatla High School 75-49 earlier this month.
But the third box still needed to be checked.
Fast forward to Saturday’s ASAA 4A state championship against the Dimond High School Lynx, and four months after setting those team goals the Kings could cross off all three.
The Kings won the 4A state championship in overtime, 57-53. It is their first state title since 1974.
“We just stuck together, man,” Kayhi’s Chris Lee said in a post-game interview on NFHS Network. “It was all heart. We got down. We just tried to stick together, and stay with each other.”
Kayhi was down — but never out.
The Kings were seeded eighth in the eight-team tournament, drawing the top-seeded East Anchorage High School Thunderbirds in the first round. But after falling behind 22-5 in the first quarter, Kayhi rallied back. And the Kings won 60-58.
In the semifinals, Kayhi caught a red-hot Soldotna High School team led by Jersey Truesdell, who averaged 28 points per game in the state tournament.
Soldotna carried a slim 35-33 lead after three quarters. But just as they had done the day before, the Kings rallied back once more. And Kayhi won 53-48.
Entering Saturday’s championship game Kayhi had won 10 games in a row, but was hungry for one more.
Dimond was entering its fourth consecutive state championship game. The Lynx won the state title in 2017. They lost to Juneau-Douglas in 2016 and Wasilla High School in 2018.
Dimond and Kayhi went back and forth out of the gate, and were knotted at 10 apiece after the first eight minutes.
The Lynx opened the second quarter with an 11-0 run, and had a 27-14 lead with three minutes left in the half. But then the Kings kicked their game into another gear.
Helped along by a pair of buckets from Chris Lee, Kayhi started a 9-4 run to close out the second quarter.
The Kings’ Marcus Lee hit a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in the half. And Chris Lee shot a floating 3-pointer from deep territory, that slipped through the net at the halftime buzzer.
Chris Lee bookended the season with deep buzzer beater 3-pointers. He did the same thing against last year’s 4A state champion Warriors to end the third quarter in the Kings’ season opener on Dec. 14.
Chris Lee finished Saturday’s championship game with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Marcus Lee finished with 14 points and six assists.
The baskets cut into Kayhi’s deficit, and gave the Kings a lift heading into the break. Kayhi was down 31-23 at the half, but the Kings would outscore the Lynx the remainder of the game.
“The kids believe in what we do,” Kayhi coach Eric Stockhausen said on NFHS. “They believe in each other.”
And the Kings’ belief in each other was exemplified in overtime.
A 50-50 tie nudged the final game of Alaska’s high school basketball season into overtime. And with 44.2 seconds left in the extra frame, Kristian Pihl nailed a 3-pointer near the Kings’ bench to give Kayhi a 53-50 lead.
After the ball didn’t bounce Pihl’s way in his previous six 3-point attempts, Pihl would drain the shot that made Kayhi’s bench — and fanbase — erupt with an emotional ‘Yeah’ all at once.
“We just have faith in each other — like Kristian,” Stockhausen said. “We kept calling plays for him because we believed in each other.”
And believing in each other was how the Kings went about their season.
The Kings started their year 5-1. But Kayhi hit a bump on the road, going 3-6 in January.
“We talked about it (at the beginning of the season),” Stockhausen said. “(We were) going to have some rough times in January, with the new defensive system we were doing, and all of that.”
Kayhi traveled to Anchorage for two tournaments in January, and with the difficulty of the Kings’ schedule Kayhi knew there would be some growing pains.
“Stock said at the beginning of the year, we’re going to lose seven or eight games,” Chris Lee said.
But the Kings rebounded with resiliency, winning 13 of their final 14 games.
And at the end of their final game, the Kings were crowned state champions.
“This is the last time I’ll play with these guys,” Chris Lee said. “It meant the world to us (to get) this game.”
Saturday’s win was redemption more than four decades in the making. Kayhi’s last state championship appearance was in 1976, and was against the Dimond Lynx, as well. But that season Kayhi was runner-up.
Since then 43 Kayhi basketball teams have worn the maroon and white jerseys in hopes of reaching the grand stage. But none were able to hit the mark.
Saturday was for them.
“Our community deserves this,” Stockhausen said.
4A State Championship Scoring Line
Kayhi: Chris Lee, 28; Marcus Lee, 14; Robert Hilton-Seludo, 5; Wyatt Barajas, 4; Cody Kemble, 3; Kristian Pihl, 3.
Dimond: Isaiah Moses, 19; Carter Moore, 17; Jaren Carle, 8; Evan Hoosier, 7; Noah Brandon, 2.