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Though the game didn't count toward any rankings or standings, and the prize is little more than a plaque and a pennant on a gym wall, Juneau-Douglas and Petersburg's boys basketball teams showed why the Class 3A/4A crossover game is so much more than an exhibition.
In the final game of the four-day Southeast Conference Basketball Tournament, the defending Class 3A boys basketball state champion Vikings upset the Crimson Bears 61-59. The Vikings won their first outright Southeast title since 1971 in a game that featured 14 lead changes. Neither team led by more than five points in the game.
JDHS knocked off Petersburg the previous two years in the crossover title game. When next season rolls around, though, a fresh blue-and-white pennant designating the Vikings as Southeast Conference champs will adorn the JDHS gym wall.
"We've met these guys the last three years and they've beat us every year but we finally got our revenge," said Petersburg senior captain Cameron Severson while wearing a freshly-cut basketball net as a necklace. "We've been waiting for this since my sophomore year."
Juneau-Douglas nearly pulled off a miracle play to force overtime. Down 61-59 after making one free throw, JDHS guard Shawn Ibesate deliberately missed the second shot with 1.2 seconds left in regulation. The ball caromed back to Ibesate, who flicked up a shot in mid-air that rolled off the rim.
Severson led the Vikings with 29 points and 11 rebounds. The reigning Class 3A player of the year also hit 13 of 16 free throws to avenge a 56-52 loss to the Crimson Bears last December.
"Our goal is to still win a state championship but this is almost as important," Severson said. "To get Southeast and get our name up on one of those triangles."
Petersburg seized the lead with 45 seconds left in the game as Severson's floating shot in the lane gave the Vikings a 58-56 advantage. He later added two free throws with 35.4 seconds to give Petersburg a crucial four-point cushion.
Ibesate cut the lead back to two with 29.3 seconds left on a drive, but JDHS would get no closer.
"I think it took our guys a while to register that Petersburg really wanted to win the game," JDHS coach Steve Potter said. "They're tough and we knew that earlier in the year, and we knew they got better, and I think we got better today. We had a lot of difficulty with Severson and we missed some opportunities inside that we should've made."
While the game is basically an exhibition, both the Bears and Vikings attacked each other with abandon. Neither the fans nor players expected a tepid exhibition. Everyone in the gym knew JDHS and Petersburg would fight until the final whistle.
JDHS took a 17-15 lead to end the first quarter as Reese Saviers knocked down a 3-point shot at the buzzer.
Faifo Levale opened the second quarter by converting a three-point play - making a layup while being fouled and hitting the ensuing free throw.
Severson, however, responded by scoring seven straight points to put Petersburg up 22-20.
The rest of the game took on a similar tenor.
Juneau's Ryan Larson hit a hook shot to put JD up 28-24 with 2:30 left before halftime, then the Vikings went on a 6-0 run to reclaim the lead.
In the third quarter, the Bears' Geoff Craig drained a baseline jumper, then Vikings guard Jon Mazzella responded with a jumper of his own to end the third quarter and give Petersburg a 45-44 lead.
Juneau-Douglas led 54-51 as Cody Grussendorf hit a free throw after converting a layup with 3:53 left in the game. Petersburg cut the lead to two twice before Severson's jumper with less than a minute remaining put his team ahead for good.
"I'm very proud of our boys," Petersburg coach Rick Brock said. "The best thing about this is we played well as a team."
For Juneau-Douglas, the loss doesn't affect its state-tournament standing or ranking. The Crimson Bears will open the state tournament on March 20 against an opponent to be determined later this week.
"We've got to make sure we finish and start and pay the middle," Potter said. "Petersburg is very good. It's hard to say they're not one of the toughest teams we've played all year."
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.