Miss Chiefs in the final
- By RICHARD LARSON Daily News Sports Editors
One year after falling to Wrangell in the Region V championship game, the Metlakatla Miss Chiefs survived a huge game from the Wolves' Kiara Harrison to earn another shot at a region title.
Harrison poured in 33 points, including 26 in the second half, but Metlakatla held off a big Wolves rally, earning a 51-47 victory Thursday at Thunder Mountain High School.
“You can’t stop Kiara, you just can’t,” Metlakatla coach Julian Russell said. “It’s like guarding Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, or Tim Duncan, for that matter. You just try to do the best you can, and try to contain the rest of the team.”
The Miss Chiefs appeared to have control of the game at the half, building a 27-13 lead at the break, but Harrison scored 13 of her team’s 14 points in the third quarter and the Wolves fought back to within 32-28 at the end of the third quarter.
Harrison continued to dominate in the fourth quarter, and a pair of free throws by the senior center tied the contest 41-41 with 3:31 to play.
But with all the momentum tilted the Wolves way, Metlakatla didn’t wilt. The Miss Chiefs pushed back ahead by four points, then held on down the stretch despite struggling from the free-throw line.
Metlakatla was 0 for 5 from the line in the final minute of play, but still came up with some big plays to save the game. First, Chloe Guthrie grabbed an offensive board after a pair of missed free throws, then, after the Miss Chiefs missed two more free throws, Bree Chavez saved the day with a scrappy play.
After Metlakatla missed a pair of free throws with 12.4 second left, Wrangell got the ball near mid-court and called timeout with 10.1 second remaining.
It looked likely Wrangell would attempt to get the ball inside to Harrison once more and possibly force overtime, but Chavez, who uncharacteristically missed a number of key free throws, knocked the ball away from a Wrangell player and dove on the ball, forcing a crucial tie-up with the jump ball arrow pointing Metlakatla’s way.
Junior Ryley Booth then found Chavez with a long inbounds pass, and Chavez scooped in a layup at the buzzer to finish off the dramatic 51-47 victory.
“We have had a habit of getting down on ourselves and kind of losing confidence whenever that happens,” Russell said. “But today we never wavered. I’m really proud of them for sticking with it, being mentally tough and pulling it out today. I’m sure proud of them for that. We are a scrappy team, and that’s how we won.”
Metlakatla Junior Kennedy Cook went 7 of 8 from the free-throw line in the second half. She scored nine of her team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter to help keep Wrangell from moving into the lead.
“This is my first time making all my free throws. I’m not usually the best free-throw shooter. It was surprising,” Cook said.
But it wasn’t only her free throws that helped the Miss Chiefs weather the storm. Cook also aided in making sure the team kept its spirits up when things were looking bleak.
“Every time out, that is mainly what we talked about. Just keeping our heads high,” Cook said. “It really is difficult to do, especially as a captain, you have to watch the whole team to make sure nobody is hanging their head. That was a big win for us. We lost to them last year in the regional championship.”
Metlakatla advances to face Craig for the region championship at 3 p.m. Friday. Craig beat Haines 37-31 on Wednesday to earn its spot in the title game. Metlakatla and Craig each went 6-2 in the Southeast Conference during the regular season, splitting a series in Craig early in the year. Metlakatla earned the top seed at the region tournament based on a head-to-head points differential tie-breaker.
“Now that we have Kiara out of the way, we’ll go see about Craig,” Russell said. “But they are going to be tough, too. It’s been two months since we played them. We are two different teams now, but I imagine it will end up being the same. A nice close game. I’m excited.”
“It is just going to come down to who wants it more,” Cook said.
On Thursday against Wrangell, Metlakatla built a big early lead by keeping Harrison in check. Three players would collapse on Harrison every time she got the ball and she could never get a clean look at the basket.
In the second half, Harrison tried a different tactic, starting out near the 3-point line and cutting across the lane, flashing open for passes and getting to the basket before any other Miss Chiefs could get over to help defend her.
“Once they got her up on the perimeter, we had to be up on her because she hit 3s on us the last time we played her. She is fast for a big. She is just that all-around player that coaches dream of,” Russell said.
The Miss Chiefs led 11-2 after the first quarter, scoring in transition after turnovers and rebounds, and holding Wrangell to pair of free throws by Harrison.
Behind the scoring of Chavez, Kennedy Cook and Ryley Booth, the Chiefs pushed their lead to 27-13 at the half.
Booth drained back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the quarter, Cook added a three-point play and Chavez also added five points in the frame with some strong drives to the basket.
But Wrangell started the second half on a 15-3 run, closing within 30-28 on a inside hoop from Harrison with just under two minutes to play in the third quarter.
Cook then countered Harrison’s scoring spree. She had Metlakatla’s next eight points, offsetting three more from Harrison, to push the Miss Chiefs back in front 38-33.
But Harrison kept coming.
A pair of free throws from Harrison tied the score 41-41 before a 3-pointer from Booth spun in and put Metlakatla up 44-41 with 3:12 to play.
Two more free throws from Harrison, were answered by a free throw from Cook and a short pull-up jumper from Guthrie to make the score 47-43 with 2:22 to play.
Another basket from Harrison again cut the lead tow two, but Cook responded with a drive to the basket for a 49-45 lead.
Somewhat shockingly, another Wolfe, Addy Andrews, hit a mid-range jumper to cut the lad to 49-47 with 35 seconds to play.
Metlakatla then missed four straight free throws as they tried to close out the game, but the offensive rebound by Guthrie and jump ball tie-up from Chavez allowed the Miss Chiefs to hang on.