by Tommy Wells
The Kipnuk Falcons might not have won the Class 1A boys’ state basketball championship this past weekend in Anchorage. They did, however, turn in a solid effort in the four-day tournament, which got underway last Wednesday.
This team played hard for their teammate #5 Keoni Aliralria who is currently battling cancer. Keoni was able to be there at the opening of their first game. Last year he led his team to their 1A Coastal Conference championship and to the state tournament.
The Falcons, after suffering a tough first-round loss to Shishmaref on Wednesday, bounced back to win their next two games en route to advancing to the finals on the consolation bracket on Saturday. In the consolation finals, Savoonga used a strong spurt in the final eight minutes of play to claim a 46-41 come-from-behind victory.
The defending Alaska Coastal Conference champion, the Falcons jumped on top of Savoonga early. The Falcons rode the hot hand of Julian Smith and Arthur Paul to nine points in the first period of play and took a slim one-point lead into the second.
The Falcons didn’t ease up from there. Kipnuk pushed its lead to three at the half, at 25-22, with a 16-14 run in the ensuing frame.
Savoonga, which was making its first trip to the ASAA Class 1A State Basketball Tournament, rallied back in the third. The King Bears outpointed Kipnuk by a 12-10 margin in the frame and went into the fourth down by just one, at 35-34.
Savoonga reeled off a 12-6 run in the final eight minutes to collect the victory.
Despite the loss, the Falcons picked up outstanding performances from Smith and Paul. Both finished in double figures offensively. Smith pumped in a team-high 15 points while grabbing 14 boards. Paul scored 12.
Logan Paul also played well for Kipnuk. He scored 10 points in the contest.
Kipnuk, one of four Y-K teams advancing to the 16-team boys’ state tournament, kicked off their state appearance on a sour note on Wednesday by dropping a 53-44 decision to another Bering Sea Conference rival, Shishmaref. The Northern Lights took the play-in game by a score of 53-44.
In the opening day loss, Smith starred for the Falcons. He pushed in 11 points while grabbing a tournament-high 21 rebounds.
Paul added 10.
The loss to Shishmaref dropped Kipnuk into the consolation bracket on Thursday to face off against Hydaburg, a 52-40 loser to Noatak on Wednesday.
Kipnuk bounced back nicely against Hydaburg, riding double-digit efforts from Smith and Logan Paul to a 44-41 victory. The Falcons raced to a 35-34 lead through the first three quarters and sealed the win with a 9-7 push in the fourth.
Smith starred on both ends of the court for Kipnuk, netting 15 points and 15 boards.
Logan Paul added 10 points, while Arthur Paul chipped in six.
The win over Hydaburg lifted the Falcons into the consolation semifinals to face off with Y-K rival Akiak. Smith and Logan Paul both pushed in double-double effort en route to lead Kipnuk to a 72-59 victory over the Thunderbolts.
The Falcons, who jumped to a quick 18-9 lead in the first quarter, all but wrapped up a berth in the consolation finals with a dominating effort in the second quarter. The Falcons outscored Akiak by a 21-14 clip in the frame and took a 39-21 lead into the half.
Akiak, paced by 19 points from Isaac Demientieff and a double-double effort from Tsion Williams, rallied back in the third. The Thunderbolts posted an 18-12 spree in the first eight minutes of the second half and entered the fourth trailing by just 11, at 51-39.
Kipnuk salted away the win with a 21-point effort in the final frame.
Smith finished the game with 11 points and 17 rebounds. Paul contributed 16 points and 10 boards. Arthur Paul and Walter John barely missed joining Kipnuk’s double-double club. Paul finished with 15 points and eight assists, while John netted 19 points and five rebounds.
Demientieff led all Akiak scorers with 19 points. Williams added 15 points while nabbing a team-high 16 boards.
Ray Egoak, Micah Albrite and Owen Williams-Ivan also played well for the Thunderbolts. Egoak chalked up nine points and seven boards. Albrite and Williams-Ivan pitched in seven each.
Like Kipnuk, Akiak began its tournament appearance on a tart note. The Thunderbolts, despite 19 points from Egoak, suffered a 79-60 loss to Noorvik.
Egoak finished the game with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Williams-Ivans, Demientieff and Tsion Williams also turned in outstanding efforts. Williams-Ivan finished with 12 points, while Demientieff added 10. Tsion Williams contributed four points and 13 rebounds.
Akiak, the Greater Kuskokwim Conference champion, picked up its win on Thursday with a 71-49 decision over the Emmonak Huskies. In the consolation bracket opener.
The Thunderbolts raced to a huge lead in the first half, taking a 40-25 lead, and never looked back.
Demientieff and Jeremy Williams led Akiak’s offensive push Demientieff finished with 25, while Williams chipped in 23. Tsion Williams added seven points and a team-high 15 rebounds.
Gregory Fretis led all Emmonak scorers with 18. Isaac Chadwick added 15.
Emmonak drew the toughest opener of any team at the state tournament, having to face off with top-ranked King Cove on Wednesday. The T-Jacks, the eventual Class 1A state champion, broke open a close 11-8 game at the end of the first quarter by erupting for 32 points in the second. King Cove held a comfortable 43-21 lead at the half.
The T-Jacks added 24 more in the third and built their lead to 57-26.
Theodore Oktoyak led all Emmonak scorers in the game with eight.
Like Emmonak, Kotlik drew a tough opening round matchup. They face off against eventual Class1A runner-up Nunamiut from Anaktuvuk Pass on Wednesday and suffered an 84-29 setback.
Emiran Mike and John Odinzoff led Emmonak with eight and six points, respectively.
They dropped a 61-46 decision to Savoonga in the first round on consolation play. Mike and Keyshawn Keyes led EHS by scoring 15 and 14 points, respectively.
In other action, the Hooper Bay Warriors went 0-2 in the Class 2A state tournament. The Warriors, despite a solid effort from Arnold Simon and Jaden Joe, suffered a 49-34 loss to Unalaska on Thursday.
Simon finished with 10 points. Joe added nine, while Kevin Green and Evin Matchian scored eight and six points, respectively.
They suffered a 47-39 setback on Friday to Unalakleet. In the loss, Green led Hooper Bay with 12 points. Matchian and Joe added nine and seven points, respectively.