SITKA -- Even when the Mount Edgecumbe High School girls basketball team took an 18-point lead over the Petersburg Vikings in the first quarter, the Braves didn't think they had their Region V-Class 3A semifinal game won.
The two-time defending champions expected Petersburg to make a comeback, and the Vikings rallied as they closed the margin down to one point before finally dropping a 49-43 decision to the Braves Thursday at Mount Edgecumbe's B.J. McGillis Gym. Mount Edgecumbe earned its fifth straight berth at the Class 3A state tournament March 22-24 in Anchorage, while Petersburg's dream of a state berth came to an end with the loss.
"We expected them to come out strong," said Mount Edgecumbe guard-forward Adrienne Taalak, who led her team with 25 points. "We knew they'd be tough."
"We had a shooting slump," Mount Edgecumbe guard Prema Warren said of the fourth quarter, when Petersburg rallied. "All we had to do was step up on defense."
Mount Edgecumbe (20-3 overall) jumped out to a 24-6 lead late in the first quarter, which ended with the Braves leading 24-8. Petersburg (11-10) closed the gap to 27-19 early in the second quarter and still trailed by eight at halftime, down 30-22. Petersburg whittled the lead down to 37-32 late in the third quarter, but Mount Edgecumbe made it 40-32 at the end of the period when Taalak picked up her fourth foul and went to the bench.
With Taalak sitting, Petersburg had a chance to close the gap but Mount Edgecumbe's defense held and the score was still 40-32 midway through the fourth quarter when Taalak returned to the game. Mount Edgecumbe still led by eight, 44-36, with just over two minutes left when center Sara Squartsoff fouled out and Mount Edgecumbe's post presence went with her to the bench.
That's when Petersburg forward Amber Beardslee went to work, as she scored six of Petersburg's next seven points to close the margin to 44-43 with 52 seconds left in the game. But that was as close as the Vikings would get, as Taalak hit a turn-around jumper (and missed a free throw) with 35 seconds left to make it 46-43. Melanie Beans hit two free throws with 16 seconds left to make it 48-43 and Warren (who finished with 13 points) hit another free throw with five seconds to go for the final margin.
"They came out on fire," Petersburg coach Dino Brock said. "There's nothing you can do when they're draining 20-footers and we've got a hand in their face. We just kind of ran out of time."
The victory sends Mount Edgecumbe, which hasn't lost a region game all season, into today's 3:30 p.m. championship game against the Haines Glacier Bears (8-14). Haines edged Metlakatla in Thursday's other semifinal game. Petersburg and Metlakatla (10-12) will play at noon today in the third-fourth place game. Craig (7-12) and Wrangell (3-16) played at 8:30 a.m. today in the fifth-sixth place game.
The region is divided into north and south divisions since travel costs don't allow all the teams to play home-and-home series with each other each year. The region's power was definitely in the north this year as Mount Edgecumbe posted the top record and Haines needed a point-differential tie-breaker over Petersburg to gain the second seed away from Mount Edgecumbe in the region tournament bracket.
While Beardslee thought the Petersburg-Mount Edgecumbe match-up should have been saved for the championship, the Mount Edgecumbe players said they're ready for Haines.
"As far as we're concerned, the championship's on Friday," Beans said.
Glacier Bears 55, Miss Chiefs 51
The Haines girls came from behind to beat Metlakatla, giving the Glacier Bears their first berth in the Class 3A state tournament since 1984, before many of the younger Haines players were born.
"This is very exciting," said Lisa Sele, who led Haines with 41 points and is the only senior on the Glacier Bears' roster. "We led in the first half, but then they got as many as 15 points ahead of us in the second half. We just played tough defense and came back."
Sele made seven of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter, including a big one with one second left that iced the game for Haines by making it impossible for a long 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. Sele made 23 of 35 free throws for the game as she was fouled nearly every time she drove for the basket. Haines was 31 of 48 from the line, while Metlakatla was 11 of 15.
"I don't know if I like being that person," Sele said about being on the free-throw line with the game on the line. "I'm not a real confident free-throw shooter."
Sele's younger sister, Lori, added eight points for Haines and was the team's second-leading scorer. Lori Sele said Haines wasn't sure about her team's chances of earning a state berth entering the region tournament, especially since Haines is only 8-14 overall this season (including the two region tournament victories).
"I thought we had a slight chance, but I knew we had to work for it," Lori Sele said. "Toward the end of the season we got better and our defense worked better. From the beginning of the season we've improved a lot."
LaTonya Galles scored 15 points to lead Metlakatla, while Candra DeGuzman added 11 for the Miss Chiefs.