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To bye or not to bye - that is the question.
By the slimmest of margins, the Juneau boys basketball team earned the top seed and first-round bye at this week's Southeast Conference-Class 4A boys basketball tournament.
The bye is a sign of regular-season success and allows for better scouting of opponents, but it also allows more time for anxiety to build. While they'll have to work to stay focused amid the tourney hubbub while waiting an extra day to play, the Crimson Bears are happy with their position.
"Anything can happen in that first game - stranger things have happened than a third seed beating a second seed - so we don't have to worry about that even being a possibility," Juneau senior Tom Derbesy said. "And we get to see Ketchikan and Sitka (play) ... Maybe they've saved something (new) for the end of the year."
Ketchikan and Sitka will play at 8:45 p.m. tonight at the JDHS main gym, with the winner advancing to play Juneau in the Class 4A boys final at 9:15 p.m. Friday. The winner of Friday's game earns the sole Southeast berth to the state tournament.
Ketchikan is favored to win tonight's game. The Kings posted two convincing wins over Sitka last weekend, which included a 30-point game from senior guard Jesse LeBeau. Sitka counters with go-to seniors Andrew Broschat and Manfred Bekeris.
If the Kings do win tonight, they'll meet Juneau for the fifth time this season; they've split the four games so far. It also will be a rematch of last year's Class 4A boys region final, which Ketchikan won for its first region boys title since 1989.
Juneau boys players said they have moved past last year's tourney loss.
"After last year, we threw it out the window," Saldivar said.
"It's completely behind us," Derbesy said. "It's a new year, a new squad - there's no comparison. We're ready to make a new start. ...
"We've been looking forward to this point. ... This is a huge opportunity to redeem the season."
Juneau is fairly healthy going into tournament play, thanks to a week off at the end of the regular season. Sophomore post Will Egolf has continued to show progress as her recovers from a foot injury, and expects to be back in action this weekend.
"Hopefully the pressure of the moment won't detract from our performance, and we'll play our best basketball at the end of the year," Juneau coach George Houston said.
"This is a good opportunity for us - it's like a final exam," Saldivar said. "We built all this season for a final game."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.