SITKA -- As the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team prepared for this weekend's Region V-Class 4A tournament at Sitka's Mount Edgecumbe High School, the Crimson Bears didn't have to look very far for inspiration.
On the wall of the Juneau's main gym is a series of pennants -- in team colors -- showing every region and state champion dating back to 1949. There are occasional splotches of white and red on the row of state champions, showing Juneau's state titles won in 1999, 1998, 1982 and other years.
But the row of pennants representing the region champions is a testament to Juneau's domination. The Crimson Bears have won eight straight Region V titles, 10 of the last 11, and 15 of the past 19 dating back to 1982. When Juneau plays this weekend, it will be after its ninth consecutive Southeast championship.
"We definitely don't want to be the team that lets down the string of white," Juneau senior guard Clay Brown said.
"I don't want the kids worrying about that at all," Juneau coach George Houston said of the streak. "I just want them to put all their effort into Friday night's game. Besides, for us to put another white pennant up there we also have to win on Saturday (against the Region V-Class 3A champion). For us to continue our season, we've got to win on Friday. Saturday's gravy."
The Crimson Bear boys (15-7 overall, 7-1 in region) earned a bye into Friday night's 9 p.m. championship game by winning the regular-season region title. But that regular-season title doesn't mean a thing during the region tournament.
If Juneau doesn't beat the winner of Thursday's 5:15 p.m. game between second-seeded Sitka (13-8 overall, 4-4 region) and third-seeded Ketchikan (7-15 overall, 1-7 region), the Crimson Bears won't be going to next weekend's Class 4A state tournament in Anchorage. Only one Region V-4A team gets to go to state, and that's the team that wins the region tournament, even if it didn't win a region game all season.
"We'll be happy to play either team," Brown said. "Sitka beat us (two weekends ago) and Ketchikan matches up well with us."
"I've been doing this long enough that you never know who's coming out of that second-third seed game," Houston said, adding that last year third-seeded Sitka upset second-seeded Ketchikan. "We'll find out Friday who we'll get to play."
Juneau has been peaking at the end of the season, with the Crimson Bears winning eight of their last nine games. But Juneau received a big wake-up call on March 3 when Sitka beat the Crimson Bears 70-49 the day after Juneau clinched the regular-season title on a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left by Joe Ayers. That loss was Juneau's only loss to a Region V-4A opponent, and the only loss since Feb. 1.
Juneau came back to sweep a two-game series at Ketchikan last weekend, but the Kings gave Juneau a run before losing 56-48 on Friday and 54-43 on Saturday.
"I definitely think we needed it," Juneau senior forward James Severin said of the Sitka loss. "We weren't feeling too good after the loss to Sitka, so we were glad to get back on track in Ketchikan."
"It was a good wake-up call for us," Brown said. "I think Ketchikan was a good weekend for us because we played more as a team. It was a good series."
Severin thinks the first-round bye can help the boys, since they'll be able to scout the Sitka-Ketchikan winner. He's also hoping they'll have another close game, and that will leave the winner emotionally drained when it plays Juneau on Friday.
While the Juneau boys are looking to win a ninth straight region title, the Juneau girls are hoping to reclaim the crown it lost to Ketchikan in overtime last year. That loss kept Juneau from earning a berth in the state tournament, even though the Crimson Bears were one of the few teams to beat eventual state champion East Anchorage during the regular season.
This year, Ketchikan again won the regular-season region title and first-round bye, but it came down to a point-differential tie-breaker after Juneau and Ketchikan split their four regular-season games and both finished 6-2 in the region. Juneau (15-6 overall) will have to play Sitka (8-12 overall, 0-8 region) at 3:30 p.m. Thursday for the right to play the Kings (14-4 overall) in Friday's 7:15 p.m. championship game.
"This whole year our goal has been to get out of regions," Juneau senior forward Michael Kohan said. "If we play to our ability, I think we can do it."
"We need to worry about Sitka first," Juneau senior guard Courtney Mason said. "It's their hometown and we have to play them really good if we're going to beat them. They match up well with us."
Last weekend in Ketchikan, the Kings clinched the first-round bye with a 46-22 victory on Friday and Juneau had to rally in the fourth quarter to claim a 37-34 victory in Saturday's game just to split the two-game series. Juneau coach Jim Hamey said his team's defense played well, even though the offense struggled.
"Our defense was good on both nights, even if our execution and confidence in our offense wasn't there," Hamey said. "We didn't get there on offense until the last quarter. But we've played them four times now and we're 2-2, so we should have a fairly good idea what we need to do."
Juneau's victory on Saturday, even though it didn't earn the Crimson Bears the first-round bye, may have had other benefits. Mason said it helped Juneau's confidence, while maybe taking some away from Ketchikan.
"I think it put some doubt in their minds," Mason said. "We were always playing good defense, it just wasn't a high-scoring game."
Juneau has been battling some injuries in recent weeks, but the injuries are healing. Kohan missed two games two weekends ago because of a stomach injury from a sledding accident, but she played last weekend in Ketchikan. And Suzanne Parr missed the same two games with a knee injury, although she's now playing with a brace.
"I scraped all the skin off my stomach when I was sledding," Kohan said. "It's healing, but I'm not totally back yet. I played last weekend, though, and it felt good to be back out there."
Ketchikan coach Doug Nausid said any of the three Region V girls teams would be a worthy representative at the state tournament, and he feels it's time for at-large berths so more than one team from the region can qualify if the region proves its teams are stronger than the others in the state. Of course, he'd still like his team to earn another trip to state.
"All the games we've played this season are meaningless once we get to the tournament," Nausid said. "Juneau will be fired up and they're pretty much healthy now. We'll have to execute. Whoever ends up winning it will be a good representative at state. Hell, even Sitka has a shot and would do well if it got to state."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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