Of all the games played at the 62nd Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament, none compared to the intensity of the Mighty B Bracket title game as Hoonah held off Haines Merchants 104-93 for the victory at the Juneau-Douglas High School gym.
This one game will surely be recalled when the Hoonah team members get together for future reunions and Gold Medal tourneys.
"It feels like a 1,000 pounds are off my shoulders," said Hoonah tournament MVP Travis Dybdahl. "We've been battling these guys for a long time and we finally got them."
Hoonah had a long journey to the finals, winning four games in as many nights after being routed by the Merchants 109-81 on Sunday. In the same span, Haines played just one game - Thursday's semifinal win over Angoon.
The extra games proved beneficial to Hoonah as they allowed the young team much needed experience.
"This is a rebuilding year for us," Hoonah coach Johan Dybdahl said. "We lost some players who moved into the C Bracket. So it does help to have the extra games so that everyone can play together more and gel."
Haines' Andrew Friske agreed that playing the loser's bracket makes a difference.
"If you look back, only two teams have won the tourney with four wins in the past 10 years," He said. "Every year we won, we came back from the loser's bracket. I think it's a huge factor."
Dybdahl's 26 first-half points paced Hoonah to a 57-40 lead at the break. Hoonah capped off the half with sweet ally-oop layup from James Wilson to D.J. Lindstrom.
Hoonah also limited the effectiveness of Ben Egolf. The 6-foot-10 forward, who received the sportsmanship award after the game, scored just two first-half points and finished with 11.
Haines slowly worked its way back into the game in the second half, closing the gap to 85-81 late in the period. But Hoonah's Mike Schneeberger came up big in the clutch, scoring nine points in the final four minutes. He also blocked an Egolf layup attempt to help squash a Haines rally.
"This is a very nostalgic win for us," said Schneeberger, who was named to the All-Tournament team. "We've known Haines' style in Southeast for years. We just had to bring it to them."
Dybdahl finished with a game-high 43 points followed by Schneeberger with 18, Lindstrom with 16 while Devin Moretz added 14 to round out Hoonah's high scorers. Lindstrom was also honored with an All-Tourney selection.
"Travis Dybdahl was the difference," Andrew Friske said. "We couldn't find a guy to stop him."
The Merchants were led by Andrew Friske's 30 points. Brian Friske scored 20, Tyler Healy had 17 and Jason Shull contributed nine points in defeat. Andrew Friske and Shull were both named to the All-Tournament Team.
Other players named to the All-Tournament team include Yakutat's Jay Sin, Sitka's Matt Burrows, Metlakatla's Richie and Bryan Hayward, and Angoon's Curtis Lane and Stan Johnson Jr.
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.