The first game of a tournament can be the toughest, so Hoonah was happy when it jumped out to an early lead against Angoon A.N.B. in Sunday's first round of the Mighty B Bracket of the 2001 Gold Medal Tournament at Juneau-Douglas High School's main gym.
Hoonah, which slumped last year after reaching the championship game two years ago, rode that early lead to a 96-73 victory. The victory sends Hoonah into today's 5:30 p.m. second round game against the two-time defending champion Haines Merchants, who beat Hoonah for the title two years ago in one of the classic Gold Medal games.
"It was good to get the jitters out," Hoonah's Travis Dybdahl said after leading all scorers Sunday with 26 points. "Hopefully we can get back to the championship."
In Sunday's other Mighty B Bracket first-round games, the Haines Merchants beat Juneau Frontier Realty 80-65, Sitka edged Yakutat A.N.B. 69-66 and Kake beat Klawock 117-98. Besides today's Hoonah-Haines Merchants second-round game, today's other second-round game is between Sitka and Kake at 1 p.m. Yakutat plays Klawock in a losers' bracket game tonight at 8:30 p.m., while Angoon and Juneau play at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in another losers' bracket game.
Hoonah and Angoon were close through the first few minutes of Sunday's opening-round game. But things started to go Hoonah's way and Hoonah rolled out to a 49-32 halftime lead. Hoonah continued to cruise in the second half, taking the lead to 34 points a couple of times before Angoon closed the margin when Hoonah's subs were in.
"Once I hit that bank shot, I knew," Dybdahl said. "I didn't mean for it to be a bank shot, but it went in."
Dybdahl, who also grabbed 13 rebounds, wasn't the only key for Hoonah. Another was Nate Strong, who just finished playing the college season for Biola University where he earned third-team all-American NAIA Division I honors. Strong, who scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds Sunday, helped Biola reach the NAIA Sweet 16 earlier this month, where the Eagles lost in overtime to the Oklahoma University of Science and Arts.
"It's a lot different," Strong said of playing Gold Medal after the college season. "In college we played defense, here we don't play defense. It's fun to always come up here and play. We'll be fine. We're just getting back together. We've got a good team."
Another key for Hoonah was Russell Dick, who scored 17 points, made four steals and had four assists. Albert Hinchman and Mike Mills both scored eight points for Hoonah, with Mills also grabbing seven rebounds.
"It took us a little while to get going," Dick said. "Last year we played without Nate, but in the second half everyone got their second wind. Last year everyone knew it would be a tough year for us, but it was good for the younger guys to get to play a little more. Now, with Nate back, we've got our core again."
Dick said the team practices in Hoonah, but he and Dybdahl both work in Juneau and Strong is in school in California. Dick said he and Dybdahl try to get to Hoonah when they can, and "Nate fits in."
"We're in pretty good shape," Dybdahl said. "We're ready to play Haines or whoever. Definitely with Nate, we're a lot stronger."
Angoon had its moments, especially early in the game and later when David Johnson hit three straight 3-pointers to whittle into Hoonah's second-half lead. Johnson led Angoon with 22 points and 12 rebounds, while Guy Hunter had 11 points.
"We started out neck and neck, but we had a downfall," Johnson said. "As soon as the lead got over 10, we got knocked back."
"I thought we had a good defense," Angoon's Ed Jack said.
Angoon still has a chance to win the tournament, but it will have to be through the losers' bracket.
"We're like wounded animals now, we've got nothing to lose," Johnson said.
"We're like a bear, we're dangerous," Jack said.
Haines 80, Juneau 65
Andrew Friske scored 24 points to lead the Haines Merchants over Juneau Frontier Realty as Haines opened the defense of its Mighty B Bracket title.
Jesse McGraw added 14 points for Haines and Stuart DeWitt scored 11 as Haines pulled away from Juneau, which hadn't played a game in several weeks. Mike Abbott scored 19 points to lead Juneau, while Lonnie Anderson had 18 points and Dave Thomson added 14.
Juneau is a Division 3 Ordway League team that didn't find out until 9 a.m. Sunday it was in the tournament. Juneau was a late substitution team for Metlakatla Sons of Taquan, which pulled out of the tournament Sunday morning because of a commercial fishing opening.
Kake 117, Klawock 98
Mike Smith scored 27 points, with five 3-pointers, as Kake clobbered Klawock 117-98.
Rudy Bean added 22 points for Kake, while Scott Jackson had 21, Nick Davis scored 11 and Lloyd Davis added 10 points for Kake, which had five scorers in double figures.
Don Alander scored 25 points to lead Klawock, which had six double-figure scorers. Sammy Nickerson added 17 points, Shawn Williams had 14, Doug Edenshaw added 13, Johnny Morris scored 11 and Jason Smith chipped in 10 points for Klawock.
Sitka 69, Yakutat 66
Cliff Davis scored 18 points, including four free throws down the stretch, as Sitka held off a challenge by Yakutat A.N.B.
Gary Smith added 16 points for Sitka, while Mitch Mork scored 11 points and Josh Branham added 10 points all in the second half.
Damien Long scored 20 points to lead Yakutat, while Jimmi Jensen had 15 points, Michael Jensen scored 14 and Ralph Johnson added 11 points.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.