SITKA - Three leading Class 2A boys basketball teams emerged from the pack during the regular season.
Only two will get to advance from this weekend's Southeast Conference-Class 2A tournament in Sitka - provided they are not bounced by one of the other four upset-minded squads.
Kake, Hoonah and Yakutat - first, second and third in the region's regular-season standings - lead the field of seven boys teams at the tournament, which opens today and runs through Saturday at Mount Edgecumbe High School.
In the girls tournament, Skagway and Yakutat are the clear favorites after both finished the regular season with 11-1 conference records, while none of the other five teams posted a winning record in region play.
The top two boys and girls teams at this weekend's tourney will earn berths to next week's Class 2A state tournament in Anchorage.
The boys tournament opens today with Thorne Bay playing Skagway at 1 p.m., Yakutat facing Angoon at 4:45 p.m. and Hoonah playing Klawock at 8:30 p.m. Top-seeded Kake has a first-round bye.
In the girls tournament today, Hoonah plays Kake at 11:15 a.m., Klawock plays Angoon at 3 p.m. and Yakutat faces Hydaburg at 6:45 p.m. Top-seeded Skagway has a first-round bye.
Semifinals, consolation-bracket games and skills contests are scheduled for Friday. The championships will be held Saturday afternoon.
In the boys tournament, Kake (14-6 overall, 11-1 SE) is on a six-game winning streak as junior Derek Knudsen and senior Tim Demmert have been posting high-scoring games. Knudsen broke 40 points twice during the regular season, while Demmert hit 58 in a game last week.
The Thunderbirds lost to host Hoonah in a non-conference game in early February, then hosted the Braves the next week and won two conference games. Kake's only conference loss was to Yakutat in early January.
Hoonah (19-3 overall, 10-2 SE) has a high-scoring offense and strong 3-point shooting led by Dustin Bowen, D.J. Lindstrom and Devin Moritz. The Braves broke 100 points twice in the past few weeks, and their only losses this season were to region rival Kake twice, and to Class 3A Craig.
Yakutat (13-7 overall, 9-3 SE) has been idle for three weeks, but boasts a balanced offense and was the only team to beat Kake in a conference game during the regular season. Six different players - Kyle Dierick, Ben Dunbar, Sam Ferguson, Jack Klushkan, Alin Vale and Jay Sin - led the team in scoring during regular-season games.
Other boys teams at the tournament, in order of seeding, are Thorne Bay (5-10 overall, 5-7 SE), Skagway (4-16 overall, 4-8 SE), Angoon (5-11 overall, 3-9 SE) and Klawock (0-14 overall, 0-12 SE).
Hydaburg, which won the last three Southeast-Class 2A titles, won state in 2003 and was a state runner-up last season, did not field a team this season due to a lack of players, so there will be a new champion this season. Angoon claimed the second state berth last season.
The Skagway girls return to defend the Southeast title they won last season - the first region title in team history. Yakutat, last year's Southeast runner-up, is aiming for the top.
Skagway (19-1 overall, 11-1 SE) has won seven straight games - including a victory over the state's then-No. 1 ranked team, Ninilchik - since suffering its only loss of the season to Yakutat in mid-February. Panthers senior Savannah Ames is the team's leader, but is backed by talented players including Michelle Harris, Tiffany Potter and Candi Ketterman.
Yakutat (14-5 overall, 11-1 SE) is led by a veteran-rookie duo - senior Jacquoi James and freshman Heidi Esbenshade. Several of the Eagles' losses have been to Class 3A teams, and they stayed close through three-and-a-half quarters of a January game against Ninilchik. Yakutat was able to contain Ames during its win over Skagway, while James and Esbenshade led the offense.
Hoonah (16-6 overall, 6-6 SE) has run hot-and-cold this season, as the Braves have played shorthanded at times. At full strength, they went a perfect 3-0 to win their home tournament, the Icy Straits Invitational, in early February. Jessica and Kristi Skaflestad are among the team's leaders.
Klawock (7-7 overall, 6-6 SE) is seeded above Hoonah, thanks to a pair of conference wins over the Braves. The Chieftains are led by Kaleigh Ryno and Sharon Webb.
Other girls teams at the tournament, in order of seeding, are Kake (6-9 overall, 4-8 SE), Angoon (5-13 overall, 3-9 SE) and Hydaburg (2-13 overall, 1-11 SE).
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.