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Juneau's Marlintini's Arctic Lights were the shining stars of the 58th Annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament's A Bracket, claiming their second championship in three years with a 104-82 victory over Sitka ANB/ANS on Saturday.
The Arctic Lights used a quick start by Jason Bavard to grab an early lead, then used their size and speed to dominate the game at the Juneau-Douglas High School main gym. Marlintini's also had several former college players, while many on Sitka's squad were only a few years out of high school.
"It definitely makes a difference," B Bracket MVP Josh Lockhart said of the Arctic Lights' experience. "We had size and scoring ability, and we got Jon. It definitely makes it difficult."
Bavard scored 10 of the Arctic Lights' first 12 points, giving his team a 12-4 lead. After that jump-start, former Biola University player Lockhart and former University of Alaska Anchorage players Jon Madison and Shaun O'Shea took over. The Arctic Lights led 63-36 at halftime and Sitka never got closer than 22 points the rest of the way.
"When you get a good double-digit lead it really takes the wind out of their sails," Bavard said.
"We pretty much were not worried about what they do," Madison said. "We wanted to protect the ball and work on what we do best. It was our fast break and outside shooting, and I think our size was about even."
Madison scored 27 points to lead the Arctic Lights, helping O'Shea on the boards and also slashing to the basket when his team needed a quick hoop. Bavard scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half, while Lockhart had 16 points and O'Shea and Robert Casperson added 10 each.
When Sitka beat Juneau Filcom in Friday's losers' bracket final to reach the title game, Sitka center Steve Walker said he didn't know how he would attack the Arctic Lights.
"I'm still not sure, and the game's over," Walker said. "They're just fun to play, nothing but good shooters. Bavard's probably the best pure shooter in Southeast."
All nine of Marlintini's players at the game scored on Saturday, but the Arctic Lights' thoughts were with teammate Greg Lockwood. Lockwood's infant daughter, Gwendolyn, had to be medevaced to Anchorage early Saturday morning and Greg and his wife Jenni went north with her.
"We wanted to dedicate this game to Greg Lockwood and his family," said Marlintini's Lounge co-owner Ethan Billings, who scored seven points Saturday.
The Arctic Lights also were worried about the future of the A Bracket, which tournament organizers have considered eliminating. The Marlintini's players are hoping the A Bracket continues to be a part of the tournament.
"It would be nice to build the bracket back up, and maybe add a couple of new teams," Lockhart said. "It would be nice to have an Anchorage team back in the draw."
"But if this is the last year, it's nice to go out on top," Casperson said.
Paul Carrington scored 15 points to lead Sitka, while Walker and David Johnson added 14 each, Mitch Mork chipped in 12 points and Karel Uddipa scored 10. Four of Sitka's top five scorers have only played in one or two Gold Medals, while most of the Arctic Lights are longtime veterans.
Mork and Uddipa are recent Sitka High School players, while Johnson played basketball for Angoon a few years ago. Carrington, though older, also is a recent addition to the squad. Walker has played for Sitka since 1994, while George Erickson played for Sitka's C Bracket team last year and is a veteran of about 20 tourneys.
"I wasn't here last year, but I really only knew Steve Walker," Bavard said. "But if they stick together, they've got a good nucleus. They just need some time together."
"A lot of our guys weren't even in the top division of our league, we just picked them up to get some extra players," Walker said. "We just need more experience and better shooting. They deserve it (the title). We played hard and we did better than expected. This has been one of the funnest Gold Medals I've been in. Win or lose, I had a lot of fun."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.