Trailing by 11 points at halftime of Friday's region title game against Juneau, Ketchikan boys basketball players gathered in the locker room and turned to senior captain Jesse LeBeau for inspiration.
"We set ourselves up for a big comeback," LeBeau told his teammates - and the Kings did exactly that, in thrilling fashion.
Ketchikan senior center Tyler Richardson scored 37 points and the Kings went 34-for-51 from the free-throw line as they rallied for a 66-62 overtime win over host Juneau to claim their second straight Southeast-Class 4A boys region championship.
Kayhi fans and players mobbed on the court after the final buzzer at Juneau-Douglas High School, as Crimson Bear players walked off silent and stunned.
"We got down, but we never gave up," LeBeau said after the game. "We knew we were capable of coming back, and we went out there and got it done."
"In the first half, they missed some open shots and we capitalized and had a bit of a lead," Juneau coach George Houston said. "But you could feel the energy, the momentum slipping away in the fourth. We had no answer for Richardson.
"I'm disappointed that we couldn't get it done. At some point, Ketchikan was a bit tougher than us. It's a mental thing more than a physical thing."
With the victory, Ketchikan (17-6 overall) earned its second straight trip to the state tournament, to be held March 31-April 2 at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
"It's been our goal since we were freshmen," Richardson said of Ketchikan's senior class. "We're just ecstatic. It's way sweeter than last year."
It was Ketchikan's second straight win in Juneau this season. Prior to this year, it had been 25 years since the Kings won on the Crimson Bears' home court. Juneau finished its season with a 10-12 record.
The first quarter of Friday's game was a see-saw match, but Juneau senior Tom Derbesy scored seven points in the period to give the Crimson Bears a 14-12 lead after one.
Juneau senior Norman Zura opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer, and Crimson Bear sophomore Will Egolf brought fans to their feet when he made a one-handed dunk with 5:23 left in the half to put Juneau up 24-15. Junior Luke Miller sank two free throws with 7 seconds left to give Juneau a 34-23 halftime lead.
Then Richardson started to take over the game for Kayhi. Juneau still led by 11 - 38-27 - with 5:05 left in the third, but Richardson cut the lead to five points - 41-36 - when he made a basket with 2:39 left in the period. Juneau led 42-36 entering the fourth.
Ketchikan drew within two points - 48-46 - when Richardson stole the ball and ran two-thirds of the court for a layup with 3:20 left in regulation. Derbesy scored four straight points to increase Juneau's lead to 52-46 with 2:12 left, but those were the last points Juneau would score in the quarter.
Kayhi senior Derek Clark - playing against his doctor's wishes with a ruptured ACL suffered in Juneau last month - hit one of two free throws with two minutes left.
"The doctor said there was no way in hell I should be playing," Clark said. "I went out and practiced five minutes later."
Ketchikan senior Casey Bass grabbed the rebound of Clark's missed attempt and was fouled, and sank both free throws to bring the Kings within three - 52-49 - with 1:58 left.
Bass hit two more free throws with 1:15 left to cut Juneau's lead to one. With 19 seconds left, Ketchikan junior Thomas Montgomery stole the ball and called timeout. On the ensuing play, Richardson was fouled by Egolf - his fifth - and stepped to the free-throw line with 6.8 seconds left. He missed the first, made the second to tie, and Juneau was unable to find a clear shot before time expired.
In the 4-minute overtime period, Ketchikan scored the first five points - four by Richardson - and the Kings led 57-52 with 2:18 to play. Then Juneau junior Scott Lesh caught fire from outside and hit a 3-pointer with 2:10 to play, cutting Kayhi's lead to two.
LeBeau hit two free throws with 1:32 left to put Kayhi up 59-55, but Lesh answered 14 seconds later with another 3 to cut the Kings' lead to one. Lesh missed his first try, but Crimson Bear junior Tres Saldivar rebounded and fed the ball back to Lesh, who took another shot from the same spot and drained it.
Bass sank two more free throws with 1:13 left to put Ketchikan up 61-58, but Lesh sank yet another 3-point shot to tie the game with 55 seconds left.
"He got the momentum going for us," Saldivar said of Lesh. "That first one gave up hope, the second gave us confidence, and the third one - wow - it gave us momentum, but Ketchikan came back and answered."
With 37 seconds to go, Juneau sophomore Clae Baker was fouled while rebounding a Kayhi miss. He hit one of two tries to put the Crimson Bears up 62-61. Richardson hit a shot with 20 seconds left to give Kayhi a 63-62 lead, and after a Juneau turnover the Crimson Bears were called for an intentional foul with 3.8 seconds left.
LeBeau sank both shots to put Kayhi up 65-62, and the Kings retained possession. Clark hit one more free throw with 2.5 seconds left for a four-point lead. Saldivar's long shot at the buzzer fell short, and the scene of opposing emotions played out on the floor.
"I'm about speechless," Ketchikan coach Doug Nausid said. "It was an awesome game. In the second half, we realized we had a mismatch and started going to Tyler.
"When (Juneau) hit the three 3s in the overtime, I was sweating bullets. But the kids kept their composure."
Richardson's 37 points led Kayhi, while Bass added 10, all on free throws.
"Tyler Richardson's heart is what pulled us through," said LeBeau, who scored nine points.
Lesh scored 13 points, Derbesy added 12 and Miller scored nine to lead Juneau.
"It's disappointing. We thought we had them at halftime," Miller said. "We played hard, but we just couldn't finish the game."
"Both teams played hard - Ketchikan came out on top. That's the way the game rolls sometimes," Saldivar said. "We couldn't stop (Richardson). He had control the whole game. We tried our best to deny him the ball."
The game was the last in the prep careers of Juneau's five seniors - Derbesy, Zura, Larry Cooper, Mychal Hutcherson and Kyle Huntsman.
"For us, it's a disappointing record, but we played some tremendously close games, a tough schedule," Houston said of the season.
"We had our ups and downs, but whatever it was, we stuck together," Saldivar said. "We were there for each other, and we molded into a team. We were there for each other after the game."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.
KINGS 66, CRIMSON BEARS 62, OT
Friday's championship boys game from JDHS
KETCHIKAN (66) - Thomas Montgomery 0 2-2 2, Jesse LeBeau 1 7-9 9, Derek Clark 1 4-7 6, Casey Bass 0 10-18 10, Beau Poppen 0 0-0 0, Mike Meacock 1 0-0 2, Tyler Richardson 13 11-15 37, Mike Bruce 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 34-51 66.
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS (62) - Larry Cooper 1 0-0 3, Norman Zura 2 0-0 6, Tom Derbesy 4 4-5 12, Tres Saldivar 0 0-0 0, Luke Miller 3 3-5 9, Ryan Fagerstrom 2 1-2 5, Scott Lesh 4 1-2 13, Mychal Hutcherson 3 0-0 6, Kyle Huntsman 0 0-1 0, Clae Baker 1 2-6 4, Bryan Ryder 0 0-0 0, Will Egolf 2 0-0 4. Totals: 22 11-21 62.
KETCHIKAN 12 11 13 16 14 - 66
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 14 20 8 10 10 - 62
3-point goals - Ketchikan 0, Juneau-Douglas 7 (Lesh 4, Zura 2, Cooper). Fouled out - Ketchikan 0, Juneau-Douglas 3 (Cooper, Hutcherson, Egolf). Technical fouls - None. Total fouls - Ketchikan 25, Juneau-Douglas 36.