Wrangell made its first Gold Medal appearance since 1977 on the opening day of the 67th annual tournament on Sunday at the Juneau-Douglas High School gym.
The absence must have been because they were attending a few camps taught by Hernando Villarma (1961 coach), Art Clark (1967) or Pete Casey (1952) basketball camps because the boys from the Stikine River flats looked athletic, aggressive and in sync as they out lasted traditional “B” bracket power Hoonah 75-70.
“My dad thinks the last time Wrangell played here was 1977,” Wrangell guard Cody Angerman said. “He doesn’t really remember, it was a long time ago. It feels good. It has been a long time since Wrangell has been able to represent itself in this tournament so this is pretty awesome. We are really excited about our first win.”
At 19:09 in the first half Cody Angerman scored the first Gold Medal basket for Wrangell since, well, before he was born, and the Lumbermen had their first lead in a decade.
Wrangell Gold Medal teams were called the Lumbermen back in the day and this version took to the hard woods like their predecessors, mixing it up inside on Brad Angerman post ups and throwing the long out let pass after an opponents score or a defensive rebound. The Young brothers, Keith and Kevin, and speedster Ryan Howell hounded the Hoonah ball handlers on both ends of the court.
Hoonah was not taking the game for granted and James Wilson took the lead with an answering triple from way beyond the arch moments later.
Tony Harding answered with his own rainbow for a 5-2 advantage and the tone of the game would be set with six lead changes. Neither team held more than a six-point advantage throughout the game and Hoonah’s D.J. Lindstrom nailed a triple at the first half buzzer to close within 35-32 at the break.
Lindstrom began the second half by tying the score on another triple and after a free throw Jason Clark gave Wrangell the lead, Hoonah’s Wilson pulled up from NBA range and took the advantage right back.
Midway through the second half play had been tied three more times.
With 3:08 left in the game Lindstrom brought Hoonah to within one at 64-63 with two free throws and Wilson tied it on a technical foul on the Wrangell bench.
Wrangell went on a 9-0 run after the infraction. Kevin Young sank two free throws for the lead, Ryan Howell two more, Cody Angerman one, Howell another and then Howell scored on a breakaway lay up on a rebound and outlet pass by Brad Angerman.
A triple by Devin Moritz and another Lindstrom basket gave Hoonah a last gasp at 72-70 but C. Angerman sank a free throw with 15.9 seconds remaining and Howell added another for the win.
Howell led Wrangell with 21 points, C. Angerman 15, Jason Clark 13, B. Angerman 11, Kevin Young six, Harding five, and Graham Gablehouse four.
Hoonah was led by Wilson’s 19 points, Lindstrom added 16, Devin Moritz 10, Michael Croasman nine, Jaylin Price seven, Kristian Geise five, Adam Gretsinger three, and Rooney Hasselquist one.
Free throws were a factor for both teams. Wrangell hit just 11-25 at the charity stripe and Hoonah went 22-45. Harding, Keith Young and Dustin Johnson all fouled out for Wrangell.
“This game is huge,” Harding said. “Especially since it is our first game back. It was a tough game, a real battle, but we pulled out the W and that is all that matters. We are moving on in the bracket. It means a lot to all of us to represent Wrangell.”
Wrangell now plays at 3:30 p.m. today against Haines. This will be the Merchants first game of the tourney. Hoonah plays tonight in an elimination game against Yakutat at 7:30 p.m.