Hoonah had the looks of a team that had enough of Kake’s Gold Medal reign, but there’s a reason the Tlingit Heat have won five consecutive C Bracket championships.
Kake survived one of the best games of the 65th Annual Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Tournament to defeat Hoonah 79-75 for the Tlingit Heat’s sixth consecutive C Bracket title.
The ball was in Rudy Bean’s hands down the stretch, but it was a first-timer who hit what would prove to be the decisive shot.
Facing pressure near the midcourt line with a 73-72 lead and 45 seconds remaining, Bean found an open David Watkins on the right wing, and Watkins let it fly.
The ball hit the bottom of the net and he turned and faced a delirious Kake crowd behind the team’s bench in celebration.
“I was thinking about absolutely nothing,” Watkins said. “I wanted it more than anything and, thankfully, it went in.”
But even a 76-72 score isn’t safe with 43 seconds to go in a Gold Medal championship game. Hoonah’s Lucas Johnson spotted up in the right corner and nailed a 3-pointer in front of the Hoonah cheering section to cut the lead to one, 76-75, with just 30 seconds left.
Kake advanced the ball to the frontcourt and called timeout, hoping to keep the ball in the hands of Bean, who’s provided a lot of big plays and memories in Gold Medal play.
But Hoonah face-guarded and double-teamed Bean on the inbound play, and once again it was Watkins who found himself open with the ball in his hands.
Hoonah immediately fouled Watkins to send him to the free throw line, and he calmly sank the first before bouncing the second off the front of the rim. Hoonah grabbed the rebound and pushed it down the court, but a Lucas Johnson shot was contested and never came close.
Kake’s Wayne Watkins grabbed the board and was immediately fouled, but he hit both free throws with one second remaining to cement the team’s sixth straight tournament title.
“They fought so hard, I’m surprised we came out on top,” David Watkins said. “We played our hearts out. We did what we could to keep the lead.”
Kake’s Nick Davis fouled out with only a couple of minutes remaining, leaving a void in the team’s lineup. But the five-time defending champs did what they do best: close out.
David Watkins said the team could have been more solid defensively, but Hoonah was a team on a mission.
“We were lacking on defense a little bit, but those guys were so pumped up they just kept taking it right to us,” he said. “All the credit in the world to them. They played their hearts out. But I can’t even say enough about our guys.”
Jay Peterson, who was named tournament MVP after the game, was on fire early on his way to 22 points, including four triples. Peterson said this was a great win after what might have been the most difficult championship run of the six.
“This is sweet because we’ve been together since kindergarten, and we’re still together today. We win and lose together,” Peterson said. “When Nick went down we were prepared with a good bench, and we don’t like to lose.”
Bean’s 23 points were a game high, and Peterson’s 22 were enough for second. Lloyd Davis had 13 for Kake and David Watkins rounded out the team’s double-digit scorers with 12, including three 3-pointers.
Johnson and Showalter Martin led Hoonah with 21 and 14 points, respectively.
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