The Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears boy’s basketball team won the battle but East Anchorage won the war.
“This is huge,” JDHS senior center Jeff Pusich said. “It shows the rest of the state that we are for real and team should not take us for granted. East is definitely a powerhouse in the state and this is just the beginning of what we can do.”
In the Capital City Classic final game, the Crimson Bears downed the Thunderbirds 56-53 to make a three-way tie among the two 4A schools and 3A Sitka (West Valley went 0-3). East would win the title do to point differentials in wins.
In the eyes of the players and a packed JDHS gymnasium however, the toughest team on the night were the Crimson Bears.
JDHS guard Dartanan Hodge-Campos cut backdoor with 19 seconds remaining and the Crimson Bears leading East by one point 52-51.
A perfect pass by senior Keith Ainsworth and Hodge-Campos scored, was fouled, and hit the free throw to give JDHS a 55-51 lead.
“Less contact than a football game,” Hodge-Campos said after the game. “But way more fun. Oh yeah I was excited, oh yeah.”
East’s Desmond Johnson drove for a basket to cut the margin to 55-53 with 9.9 remaining.
“I just let the game come to me,” Johnson said. “And work with the team. I think this game is going to make us work harder in practice. We are going to come back in the season and work hard. I think this was good for us to lose now rather than in the middle of the season.”
Ainsworth was fouled in the East press with 8.8 remaining and hit one of two free throws for the 56-53 advantage.
East still had on chance on the rebound and pushed the ball the length of the court but time ran out as they tried to find tournament MVP Jarred Laws.
“We are a family and we play like it,” Laws said. “Every day in practice we just want to work harder and get better. That is all we do. This tournament was great, the atmosphere was great. I enjoyed it.”
After a 19-8 first quarter run by East, the Crimson Bears enjoyed their own binge in the second stanza, outscoring East 18-4 for a 26-23 lead at the break.
East got the upper hand in the third period with Laws and Xavier Johnson downing three’s while Pusich battled inside for JDHS.
“We know what we can do,” Pusich said. “We just have to keep our heads and stay focused under the pressure. I am confidant. I have gone against players just as athletic in my three years here so it is really routine.”
Each time East would go on a run the Crimson Bears would answer.
Each time JDHS would go on a run, the Thunder Birds would answer.
East led 43-37 starting the final stanza and JDHS went on an nine to two run tying the game at 45 on a basket by Pusich and a free-throw for the lead
An East basket by Johnson regained the lead at 2:48.
Ainsworth then lofted a soft floater for JDHS, stole the ball on the other end and fed Aquino Brinson on another back door basket for a 50-47 advantage.
East’s Xavier Johnson tallied two free throws to draw within a point but Gary Speck drained a jumper with 43 seconds remaining. East again pulled too within one on X. Johnson’s basket, setting the stage for Ainsworth to fed Hodge-Campos his heroics.
“For a young group like that this is a very big win,” JDHS coach Robert Casperson said. “They had to work hard to stay in it, play through some adversity. It is a pretty tough East Anchorage group. I am really proud of my guys and their effort. They are really starting to do the things we practice and make progress, I think we are always going to have a chance. With a group this young and green you are going to get player surprises every night.”
Pusich led JDHS with 14 points, Ainsworth and Speck10, Hodge-Campos seven, Brinson and Bruce Jones six, and Adam Empson three. The Crimson Bears hit 8-15 at the line, West Valley went 6-17. Xavier Johnson led the Wolfpack with 13 points, Laws and Michael Bond 11 each, Travon Brackett eight, Desmond Johnson six, Matthew Hardwick four.
“Games like this are made by executing and making great decisions, great plays and little plays,” East coach Josh Muehlenkamp said. “We didn’t make enough little plays. Juneau played great. They played disciplined. This atmosphere is why teams come here. I want my kids to feel the band, the fans, and get in a close game and understand the execution, the passion and the pride that people have here. There is nothing like Southeast tournament basketball.”