The Yakutat High School girls basketball team captured the Class 2A Southeast Conference championship Saturday in impressive fashion at the Juneau-Douglas High School gymnasium.
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The Lady Eagles raced out to a 27-8 halftime lead and cruised to a 58-19 victory. Yakutat had a relentless physical presence the whole game as the swarming Eagles converted turnovers into fast breaks.
The Eagles' Heidi Esbenshade poured in a team-high 25 points with the help of assists from Esther Esbenshade and Sylvia Schumacher. Yakutat center Sharnel Vale added 11 points in the win.
Taneal Alsup led Kake with eight points, including two 3-pointers.
"The girls executed pretty well tonight and were pretty focused," Yakutat coach Joe Klushkan said. "We press on defense and that's just a big part of our game. We're not very tall so we need to get the game going on a 94-foot floor and use the whole thing to try to stop (opponents) from getting the ball across half court."
The Lady Thunderbirds played tough on the boards but struggled to convert shots.
Klushkan said before the game Kake presented some challenges, and he was "concerned with Kake's up-and-coming group of freshman and Shaunte Sternod."
Yakutat's pesky defense, however, forced Sternod and the Lady T-Birds out along the perimeter and did a good job of sealing off the lane.
Down 21 at the half, the Lady T-Birds started to heat up in the third quarter, but even the crowd couldn't help them get back in the game as the Eagles' Katrina Fraker provided tough defense off the bench.
"This is the first time Yakutat has ever won back-to-back regional tournaments," Vale said.
Yakutat beat Skagway, and Kake upended Hydaburg on Friday in the semifinals. Both teams qualified for the state championships with Friday's win.
"Last year we reached the state (tournament), but we let our guard down and were defeated," Klushkan said prior to Saturday's game. "We kind of expected to get back here this year, and we have our team focused and on a mission."
Kake came out firing and played hard defense, but Yakutat's offense used a series of cuts along the baseline to get some close shots. Esbenshade and Rose Fraker scored six points each in the first quarter as Yakutat took a 14-5 lead.
Yakutat showed toughness in the win as Rose Fraker left the game in the second quarter with a back injury. She returned in the third quarter to knock down a jumper and finish with 12 points.
Schumacher also left the game temporarily with a bloody nose, but she returned to the final.
"We worked together really good as a team," Heidi Esbenshade said. "We really busted our butts out there and played as hard as we could."
Kake will face Galena in the state tournament's first round on March 20 while Yakutat will face Tri-Valley.
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