With four minutes remaining in the first quarter Friday night, Juneau-Douglas High School senior Phillip Fenumiai made his first competitive steps since a season ending football injury six months ago, and the Crimson Bears made a huge leap back into contention for the Southeast Conference title with a 56-46 win over Ketchikan.
“It felt great to be playing with my teammates,” Fenumiai said. “It was fun. My first thoughts were not to turn the ball over when I got in the game. I was a little rusty.”
The numbers were not what spoke loudly about Fenumiai’s initial appearance; he got his first rebound at 3:20 in the first quarter, his first assist at 3:10, forced a turnover at 2:24 and left the game at 2:26. He got an offensive charge (3 fouls total) in the second quarter, an air ball from three-point land in the third, and threw the ball away once in the fourth. And he scored one point and pulled a couple rebounds.
It was how the Crimson Bears responded.
“Our effort has never been the issue,” JDHS coach Robert Casperson said. “It has been the execution. Tonight we executed better, certainly adding Phillip into the mix with his experience, leadership and calming presence, helps everybody. He is a good team guy, he plays for the team first and they know that. The team did not leave Phillip on an island, they didn’t expect him to be a savior. That wouldn’t be fair to him and that is not fair to all the other hard work the other players have put in all season long. Phillip is not a savior, Phillip is a piece of our team.”
Senior Gary Speck put up a monster double-double, tallying 17 points and 15 rebounds; sophomore Adam Empson scored 14 points, including two baskets and five free throws in the fourth quarter with Kayhi threatening; senior Jeffrey Pusich scored seven points, four in the crucial first minutes of play; senior Aquino Brinson scored six points, senior Keith Ainsworth and sophomore Bruce Jones four, sophomore Nathan Klein two and senior Jackson Lehnhart one.
And they did it within the framework of the team.
“We got good minutes out of Jackson (Lehnhart),” Casperson said. “Aquino (Brinson) has been busting his backside all night, Gary (Speck) had every big rebound we needed down the stretch and that was huge for us.”
JDHS led 17-8 starting the second quarter and 24-19 at the break.
Alex Pihl and Erwin Malabanan kept Kayhi close in the third quarter with three shots from beyond the arch and the Kings trailed 38-31 starting the final quarter.
Kayhi’s Brien Auger scored all six of his game points in the final period but JDHS went 10-13 from the charity stripe down the stretch to secure the win.
“It is fun to watch when we are on,” Casperson said. “We have crisp cuts and passes. We have a lot of athleticism and when we execute, as we have shown in the season, we can beat some of the top teams in the state. I have confidence in every one of our players to be out on the floor.”
On Saturday the Crimson Bears took a 15-11 first quarter lead but managed only seven points in the second and trailed 29-22 at the half.
Ben Williams made an acrobatic tip in to start the third period and it fired up the Crimson Bears. Fenumiai and Ainsworth notched baskets and JDHS took the lead for the first time with 1:45 remaining in the period.
Ainsworth hit eight of his game-high 21 points in the fourth period, including six free throws, Speck scored four of his eight and grabbed six rebounds in the quarter, and Adam Empson scored all four of his game points in the stanza with four assists.
JDHS went on a 5-0 run to open the fourth and had control of the game the rest of the way.
“The fans really helped us out,” Casperson said. “They welcomed Phillip back on Friday night very classy. And they really stayed with us when we were behind tonight. I was proud of the guys. It was a very good senior weekend. To battle back tonight and erase Ketchikan’s lead like we did and then to turn the tide to get our own lead in that situation was key. We took care of the ball.
JDHS had just seven turnovers in the game.
Fenumiai added nine points, Speck eight, Brinson, Pusich, Empson, Lehnhart and Williams four each, Jones three and Klein two. JDHS hit 13-19 at the free throw line, Kayhi went 12-14. Lervick led the Kings with 14 points, Auger added 11, Navales 10, Phil five, Pawsen four, Gass three and Almenzor and Malabana two each.
JDHS improves to 8-14 overall and 3-3 in the Southeast Conference; Kayhi is 2-6 in the SE Conference.