Fresher legs, taller forwards, cooler heads, a deeper bench and a big block by Dustin Booth kept the Metlakatla Merchants alive in the 58th Gold Medal Basketball Tournament's B Bracket.
The Merchants were down by 11 points in the first half, but rallied to claim an 80-61 victory over Hydaburg in Wednesday's losers' bracket action at Juneau-Douglas High School. The Merchants play at 2 p.m. today against Kake Tlingit Heat, a 121-108 winner against Angoon ANB in Wednesday's other losers' bracket game.
Hydaburg, which only played five people in beating Klawock in a losers' bracket game on Tuesday, had an extra player Wednesday. The addition of Darren Edenshaw helped Hydaburg jump out to a 31-20 lead with five minutes to play in the first half as Edenshaw and Harold Dilts keyed a run a 16-4 run that saw Hydaburg go from down two points, 17-15, to its 11-point lead. Metlakatla had its chances during Hydaburg's run, but had several shots roll in and then out of the basket.
Then Hydaburg went cold to close out the half and Metlakatla was able to close the deficit to two points, 32-30, at halftime.
"They were a bunch of good shooters," Booth said. "But we hit our free throws when we needed to. They have a slight edge in our series with Hydaburg, but we have much respect for each other."
"We all had runs at different times," Metlakatla's Apollo Marsden said.
One of the keys to Hydaburg's early run was that Sid Edenshaw and Al Nix played together. The two veteran players, who have played in the C Bracket with the over-35 crowd, were able to neutralize Metlakatla's height advantage with 6-foot-8 Trevan Walker and 6-4 forwards Marsden and Booth. But with both Hydaburg players in their 40s, Sid Edenshaw and Nix usually subbed in for each other.
"We needed to move the ball around more, and we should have stuck to our inside game," Nix said. "But it happens, sometimes you win some, sometimes you don't. It was fun."
"It would have been nice to have our full team," said Sid Edenshaw, who earlier said former University of Alaska Fairbanks players Matt Carle and Archie Young (the Mount Edgecumbe High School boys basketball coach) were supposed to join them later this week.
The game stayed close through the early part of the second half, with Metlakatla making small runs and Hydaburg answering to keep things tight. It was still a two-point game, 51-49, when Booth blocked big Sid Edenshaw - and that ignited a 14-0 run by Metlakatla that decided the game. Metlakatla took a 65-49 lead with 4 minutes, 18 seconds to play, and a tired Hydaburg squad had nothing left for a comeback.
"It was Dustin's big block," Metlakatla's Nick Buchanan said. "It got us all fired up, for any team it would."
"We had to pound it down low," Chris Booth said. "These are our only three games together as a team."
When the lead went to 69-53, Hydaburg finally subbed in Bob Edenshaw, who sat on the bench all of Tuesday's game while the other five players were on the court for the entire contest. The last minute of the game turned into a dunking contest between Marsden, Booth and Darren Edenshaw - who got the most style points for his windmill dunk - but Bob Edenshaw was able to squeeze in a layup to get into the scorebook.
"We didn't score for like six minutes there at the half," Darren Edenshaw said. "Like Sid said, I wish we'd had our full team."
Walker, who coaches the Metlakatla High School girls basketball team, said the Merchants were able to keep their composure when they trailed and that helped them make the comeback. He also said playing against Sid Edenshaw, the MVP of last year's C Bracket for the Klawock Old Totems, was a tough assignment.
"Sid is so strong," Walker said. "I'm used to going up and usually getting them leaning. Going up against Sid is like going up against a granite wall. I'll feel that tomorrow.
"But a big part of it was not trying to get it all back in one possession. We got a little down, but we made the adjustments. I hope we can play more and more together tomorrow."
Dustin Booth scored 22 points to lead Metlakatla, while Marsden added 20 points and Walker had 17 for the Merchants.
Darren Edenshaw scored 19 points for Hydaburg, with Dilts and Kevin Young adding 12 each. Metlakatla, which was coming off a 103-100 double-overtime loss to Huna ANB on Monday, held Sid Edenshaw to nine points and Nix was held scoreless.
Kake Tlingit Heat 121, Angoon ANB 108
When Angoon ANB made a run to take the lead midway through the first half, Kake Tlingit Heat had an answer as the Tlingit Heat cruised to a victory in Wednesday's other losers' bracket game.
Nick Davis, Rudy Bean, Mike Smith, David Watkins and Lloyd Davis keyed the answering run, which gave Kake a 70-57 halftime lead. In the second half, the Tlingit Heat kept the momentum and never let Angoon within 10 points the rest of the game.
"We just had to suck it up and play tougher," Nick Davis said. "It was kind of good to have a (deep) bench, so we could give three of our starters a good rest. Angoon gave it their all and my hat's off to them. They're a young team, but they've come a long way."
Nick Davis scored 25 points to lead Kake, which was coming off a tough 92-91 overtime loss to the Haines Merchants on Monday in a game Kake led in overtime. Bean added 22 points, while Brandon Jackson scored 16, Smith and Watkins had 14 each and Stan Johnson chipped in 13.
"I think it (the loss) gave us a lot of energy," said Lloyd Davis, who scored eight points. "We look forward to playing a lot of games. Sometimes it's hard to sit the extra day (for the winners' bracket). When you're here you want to come out and have fun, but we're here to play ball. It was good to get a run in against a running team like Angoon. Metlakatla will be a test for us. We match up pretty good."
"Our defense came through," Smith said. "Dave came out and was on fire, and our defense came together. We didn't want to end our game like that again."
Frank Jack III scored 28 points and hit seven 3-pointers to lead Angoon, which was eliminated from the tournament with the loss. Guy Hunter added 18 points, Travis Woodbury scored 15 and Phillip Daetwiler added 10 points.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.