Metlakatla overcame a 10-point first half deficit by finishing the second quarter strong, then rolled in the third quarter on its way to a 58-47 victory over the Craig Panthers in the 2A boys Southeast regional championship game on Thursday in Juneau.
The Chiefs joined the MissChiefs in celebrating championships for Metlakatla, milling around with a strong contingent of hometown fans long after cutting down the nets. Before their championship game began, the Chiefs had to wait to take the floor until the MissChiefs had done their own net cutting.
The Metlakatla boys got off to a slow start, falling behind 17-8 in the second quarter. The Chiefs finished the first half on a 10-4 run to cut the deficit to 21-16, then opened the second half with a 22-5 explosion to bolt into a 10-point lead. “We came out in the first half and Craig outworked us,” Metlakatla coach TJ Scott said. “The outplayed us. They got all the loose balls. They simply outperformed us. We looked a little nervous is what we did.”
Having regained a little momentum before halftime, Metlakatla scored the first 11 points of the second half, turning a 21-18 deficit into a 29-21 lead two minutes into the third quarter. “We went into halftime and just talked about relaxing and playing our game,” Scott said. “On offense we tried to relax, and on defense we had to pick up our intensity. ... The kids came out and absolutely responded. We went from down five to up 10 in a heartbeat.”
Guards Drew Yliniemi and Tristan White did most of the damage for Metlakatla, slashing into the lane for layups or drawing fouls from the Panthers. White scored 23 points and was 9 of 11 from the foul line. Yliniemi finished with 22 points and was 10 of 14 from the free-throw line. The Chiefs led 42-29 after three quarters, outscoring the Panthers 24-8 in the third quarter. Any chance of a Craig comeback took a major hit when the Panthers’ Kelsey Trojan fouled out a minute into the final frame.
Trojan, who finished with 15 points, was Craig’s top outside shooting threat and top passer as he tried to feed the ball inside to Craig center Lincoln Isaacs. “That was a real key,” Scott said. “He is their best interior passer. Him being out made a huge difference.”
Metlakatla went 14 of 22 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter as Craig fouled in an attempt to get back in the game. The Chiefs denied entry passes to Isaacs, and did a good job of being physical on him when he did get the ball inside.
Isaacs still finished with 17 points and went 7 of 14 from the free-throw line. “No one can match up with Lincoln Isaacs,” Scott said. “He is such a beast inside. We tried everything we could do to keep the ball out of there. We used ball pressure on their guards, and we played halfway around him, and we collapsed down on him. If he catches the ball on the block, it’s two points.”
Metlakatla went 5-1 against Craig during the regular season, but most of the games between the top two 2A Southeast teams were tight battles. “That’s the sixth time we’ve played them this year, and that’s been plenty,” Scott said.
The Chiefs, who lost the state championship game to Hooper Bay last year, are going back to state with aspirations of making a run at the title. “We can relax, we’re going to state,” Scott said. “We’ll let the chips fall where they may. We will put in some more work, and see how we match up with the best in the state.”
Craig plays Haines at 9:45 a.m. Saturday for second-place in the Southeast and the region’s second berth in the state tournament.