The Yakutat High School girls basketball team made quick work of a five-point half-time deficit Wednesday night, outscoring Skagway 25-9 in the third quarter to break open a defensive stalemate, and held off a late Panthers charge to win their third straight 2A state title game 53-38 in Anchorage.
"It feels great," Eagles coach Charlie Russell said while choking back tears. "It's so hard to describe how I feel right now... I'm still in the third quarter. That first half was close but our girls were mature, they have been here before ... we are losing three girls this year but we have a good group back. I just can't describe what our seniors have meant to the program, to the community, to me."
A three-pointer from senior Rose Fraker and a layup from classmate Esther Esbenshade in the opening minute of the second half immediately knotted the score for the Eagles. A jumper from Justyne Wheeler with 5:22 remaining in the quarter eventually gave Yakutat its first lead of the half and kicked off a 12-1 Eagles run. The teams traded baskets down the stretch, but Yakutat led 37-26 entering the fourth after briefly stretching their lead to 14.
Fraker led Yakutat in scoring for a second-straight title game with 17 points, including a trio of three-pointers, while adding eight rebounds and four assists.
"Words just can't explain it," the senior said of her third straight championship. "We played with our hearts and really pulled together. I couldn't have done it without my teammates."
Yakutat held Skagway to a single field goal for most of the first quarter until Jesse Ellis' lay-up in the final minute pulled the Panthers within 7-5 entering the second. Skagway hit on just two of 14 shot attempts in the opening period.
The Panthers immediately tied the game on a Kaylie O'Daniel lay-up to start the second quarter and, after a Yakutat turnover, took their first lead since the game's opening minute on an Ellis three-pointer. Yakutat stuck within one possession until the final minute of the second, but five straight points from Rori Leaverton helped Skagway take a 17-12 lead into half-time.
Skagway briefly pulled within six points after scoring the first five points of the fourth quarter, but shot just 3-for-14 on field goals in the period as Yakutat pulled away.
Katrina Fraker chipped in 11 points, five rebounds and four assists for Yakutat. Wheeler added eight points and Ellen Esbenshade seven for the Eagles.
Leaverton led Skagway with 13 points, including a pair of three-pointers, and added a pair of steals. Kaylie O'Daniel added 11 points and seven boards. Kaitlyn Surdyk led the Panthers with eight boards, but did not score.
"Play hard," senior Esther Esbenshade said in advice to her younger sisters. "It's a lot of fun. Every minute of practice was worth this, every minute, every sprint, every extra free throw."
Point Hope topped Northway 70-52 Wednesday morning for third place. Chevak topped Noorvik 43-39 for fourth place.
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