United of Anchorage held off defending Gold Medal A Bracket champion Tenakee Tribe, 90-86, Wednesday night in a game that was up for grabs until the final seconds.
Tenakee's loss dumped the Tribe into the losers' bracket.
"(The losers' bracket) is going to be tough because that means you have to play more games," said Tenakee's Anthony Porter, who led the team with 21 points. "I figure we'll do all right."
Porter and teammate Showalter Martin nailed 3-pointers in the opening seconds of the game, but United retaliated with a run of 17 points to establish a 17-6 lead.
Tenakee kept pressuring United's defense and drew a string of five fouls. Tenakee gained on United, which led 44-39 at the half.
"It was rough-going at the beginning, but then we calmed down and got warmed up a little bit and we had a lot of fun out there," said Chris Hamey, who scored a team-high 27 points for United. "I've been playing with them for awhile and know what they're capable of."
United's Carle attributed both teams' ragged play to their unfamiliarity with their teammates.
"I think it was a typical first game with both teams bringing in new players, trying to get accustomed to each other," Carle said.
Carle, who played for the championship Tenakee team last year, made the tough decision to stick with his new Anchorage team this year.
"The main reason why I switched was because I played with these guys all year long in Anchorage," he said. "I just feel that it wouldn't be right to leave them after we played all year long, although I feel some loyalty to (Tenakee) because we were the defending champs."
Early in the second half, United scored a string of 12 points, with six contributed by Hamey. Tenakee responded with 14 points, closing the gap to two.
"We started out slow as a team, but we came in and got things going and went on a big run," said United's Jon Madison, who scored 19 points. "We hit our shots when we needed to."
But United got its second wind and started pulling ahead with two minutes remaining in the game. In the last 50 seconds, Tenakee gave up six points to fouls. In a last attempt to overcome the persistent United, James Wilson hit a 3-pointer and then fouled out defending the basket.
Despite Tenakee's last push, United hung on to the lead.
When asked why Tenakee could not maintain its last-minute drive for victory, Porter replied, "Mental failure. Brain failure. Fatigue. It was our first time playing together, so it's going to take awhile to learn each other's game."
Other reasons may be that Tenakee was without point guard Devin Dawkins, who is held up at the University of Alaska Fairbanks with school commitments. It is uncertain whether he will make it to the tournament. Ken Hausinger is also absent, but is expected to fly in from Fairbanks soon. Despite missing players, Tenakee demonstrated its persistence and desire to win.
"It was a good game, it was back and forth," Madison said. "They kept battling and battling, but we were able to fend them off. My hat's off to Tenakee Tribe for battling like that."
United will contend with Juneau's Marlintini's Arctic Lights today at 1 p.m. The winner advances to Saturday's 6 p.m. championship game.
Temporarily dethroned, Tenakee must now fight its way back from the losers' bracket if it is to reclaim the title. Tenakee will face Sitka-American Legion at 6 tonight in an attempt to make it back to the top.
"We're going to work hard," Brandon Beaver said about Tenakee's journey through the losers' bracket. "We're going to come back and win it."
Arctic Lights 142, Sitka 86
In the first A Bracket game of the tournament, Juneau's Marlintini's Arctic Lights defeated Sitka-American Legion Post 13, 142-86, hitting an amazing 17 shots from the 3-point line.
Jason Bavard led Juneau in scoring with 38 points, including eight 3-pointers. Emile Sheppard was not far behind Bavard, earning 35 points for Juneau with nine 3-pointers. Nico Harrison contributed 29 points to Juneau's win.
Jason Schlein led Sitka with 23 points and Robert Miller added 22 points.
Emily Wescott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.