The Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team finally got the better of its nemesis this weekend, sweeping a two-game series from the Ketchikan Kings and clinching the regular-season Region V-Class 4A title in the process.
The Crimson Bears were ranked behind the two-time defending champion Kings in the state's basketball poll this week -- No. 5 to Ketchikan's No. 3 -- but Juneau had little problem beating the Kings. Juneau never trailed in Friday's game, winning 52-33, and Saturday the Crimson Bears rallied from a slow start to claim a 63-52 victory in the team's final regular-season home game at the JDHS main gym.
"I was so happy we won," said Juneau senior center Hilary Rehfeld, who scored 15 points in Saturday's game. "We knew what we had to do offensively, be patient and look for good shots. We're really looking forward to Southeast now, looking forward to the region tournament."
Juneau improved to 14-5 overall (14-6 if an Alaska School Activities Association endowment fund game loss to East Anchorage is included in the record), and is now 5-1 in Region V-Class 4A play. Ketchikan fell to 14-4 overall and 2-4 in region. Juneau heads to Sitka for its final games of the regular season this coming Friday and Saturday, but even if Juneau loses both of the Sitka games the Crimson Bears couldn't be caught in the league standings.
"We like it," Juneau senior forward Kacie Murphy said after scoring 10 points Saturday. "We're glad we don't have to play that first game (at the region tournament March 14-16 at JDHS)."
The Kings won the regular-season title the past two years, earning the first-round bye each time. While Juneau had to play Sitka to open the region tournament, Ketchikan was able to rest and do some scouting before playing the winner for the region's lone berth in the Class 4A state tournament. The Kings went on to beat Juneau in the region title game the last two years, ending Juneau's season without a trip to state.
In Friday's game, Juneau jumped out early as Ketchikan didn't look to be ready to play. The Crimson Bears took an 8-0 lead before Ketchikan scored its first basket, and led 14-4 at the end of the first quarter. Juneau led 28-9 late in the second quarter, and the Kings didn't break double figures in scoring until 1 minute, 10 seconds were left in the half. Juneau led 31-14 at halftime.
In the second half, Ketchikan went on a 9-2 run to open the third quarter. But Juneau sophomores Alida Bus and Kendri Cesar broke the streak with six points to put the Crimson Bears back on track.
"That snapped us back into it," Cesar said. "For a second there, they had the momentum. I think we expected a closer game, but we were psyched up to play them."
On Friday, Juneau's younger players led the way as sophomore Danielle Larson scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds and Cesar had 10 points, four rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. Sophomore Letasha McKoy added eight points and four rebounds, while Rehfeld had eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
"I thought they came out more aggressive in the second half," Larson said of Ketchikan. "But having a slight lead helped us."
Deanna Hallman scored 11 points to lead Ketchikan, while Jodi Jakubek added nine points and five rebounds. Jonnae Ostrom grabbed 10 of her game-high 13 rebounds in the second half to help Ketchikan close the gap on Juneau, but turnovers killed the Kings. Ketchikan had nine turnovers in the first quarter and 20 for the game.
On Saturday, Ketchikan came out stronger at the opening of the game, taking a 6-0 lead before Juneau scored and leading 16-12 at the end of the first quarter. But after the Kings made it 18-12 to open the second quarter, Juneau went on a 6-0 to tie the score and the Crimson Bears took a 25-23 lead into the halftime break.
Juneau opened the third quarter with a 14-3 run for a 13-point lead, 39-26. Ketchikan closed the gap to eight at the end of the third quarter, trailing 42-34, but Juneau never let the Kings get closer than 54-50 the rest of the game. Juneau made nine of 10 free throws over the game's final 1:27 to ice the victory, with Amy Neussl's 3-pointer at the buzzer adding an exclamation point to the weekend.
"We played good team basketball the whole weekend," said Neussl, who scored 12 points Saturday. "We had a strong finish to our home season, and we're still getting better. It was nice to see different people step up."
One of Juneau's keys this weekend was being able to make adjustments. The Crimson Bears held Ostrom to just five rebounds in Saturday's game, and shut Hallman down after she had a very active first half on Saturday.
Suzanne Parr and Kari Parr both scored seven points for Juneau, with Suzanne adding five assists and two rebounds, while Cesar had four points, five rebounds and three blocks.
Anne Elliott scored 16 points to lead Ketchikan, while Ashley Hayward scored 11 points, Hallman had nine and Ostrom scored eight. Hallman added six rebounds and three assists for the Kings, who host Sitka on March 8-9 to close out the regular season.