The last time Huna ANB played the Haines Merchants, Huna came out on the short end of the score as Haines won its third straight B Bracket title in the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament last year.
One year later, Huna and Haines met again and this time Huna won 116-97 Thursday afternoon at the Juneau-Douglas High School gym. Huna moves into Saturday's 8 p.m. championship game. Haines plays Klawock-Prince of Wales at 8 p.m. today in the losers' bracket final, with the winner of tonight's game moving on to Saturday's title game.
In Thursday night's losers' bracket game, Klawock eliminated the Kake Tlingit Heat 78-75.
Huna and Haines have a long-running rivalry, and in recent years the results have been similar.
"Every year we've played twice, except two years ago when Kake reached the final," Haines' Andrew Friske said. "They've always won the first time we've played, and they always lose in the final."
"They always play better in the championship game," Huna's Kamal Lindoff said. "But we've got a lot of confidence. We're playing better this year. I think we'll see 'em again, with the championship at stake."
Huna jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and Haines was fighting from behind the rest of the game. Huna led 54-43 at halftime, but Haines closed the margin to 58-54 when Jesse McGraw scored off a steal with 17 minutes, 44 seconds left in the game.
"I told my coach we needed to call a timeout and change the tempo," said Lindoff, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the game's final five minutes.
Huna responded with a 13-4 run to bump the lead back into double digits. The Merchants' shooting then went very cold, with Huna playing tight defense on the perimeter then sagging in to help out in the paint against the larger Haines forwards. Any time Haines made a run, Huna had an answer and the lead eventually reached 21 points late in the game before a last-minute Haines run.
"Things weren't looking good," Haines forward Luck Dunbar said. "We had some good shots and some good looks, but couldn't put 'em down. Hopefully we'll see them again in the championship game."
"I think everyone's going to play a lot better," said Huna's Nate Strong, who scored a team-high 25 points. "I think we're pretty confident. Today it was, 'We've got to come out and prove something.' But they (the Merchants) didn't play to the best of their abilities."
While both teams had guards in the 5-foot-8 to 6-foot range, Haines had a definite height advantage in its forward line. Ben Egolf, Haines' 6-foot-8 center, had a half-dozen blocks, including one stretch where he stuffed Huna's Travis Dybdahl three times before finally getting called for a foul on his fourth block attempt. Haines also had Mark Byall, Dunbar and Jeff Sharnbroich up front, who are all as tall or taller than the 6-4 Strong, who was Huna's tallest player.
Egolf was matched up with Huna's Andy Gray, who's only 6-2, at center and Gray's backup, Paul Johanson, is only 6-1. But Huna preferred to have a mismatch at center so it could keep Strong at his natural power forward position, where he earned second-team NAIA all-America honors last week for Biola University.
"Those guys are big players," Gray said. "I'm 6-2, and these guys are about 6-7. You've got to body up to these guys, and I was looking for Nate to help. I was going to get my time where I was wide open, but it was hard to post up against them. The only way to beat these guys is with quickness and in the transition game. We'll try to spread it out. It'll be a really tough battle."
Even though Egolf did block a couple of his shots, Dybdahl still managed to score 24 points for Huna, which had seven players score in double figures. Albert Hinchman and Anthony Lindoff both added 12 points, while Russell Dick scored 11 and Johanson chipped in 10 off the bench.
"I thought we played tough D," Dybdahl said. "Kamal came up big on defense and Anthony proved what he could do. They (the Merchants) look like they can have two starting fives, but they have some new guys and they weren't really in rhythm yet."
"I'm glad our bench got to play," said Anthony Lindoff, who has been wrestling at Pacific University in Oregon. "We've got so many go-to guys. That second half was big for us. Our team has been stepping it up."
Andrew Friske led Haines with 18 points, while Byall added 16, Brian Friske scored 14, McGraw and Egolf had 12 each and Stuart DeWitt chipped in 10. Even though Haines had nine players score and six finish in double figures, the Merchants were impressed with Huna's depth.
"Huna's bench was on fire," Andrew Friske said. "Their bench killed us. They had a couple of guys really come through for them."
Klawock 78, Kake 75
Klawock-Prince of Wales withstood a late rally to eliminate the Kake Tlingit Heat in Thursday's losers' bracket game.
Klawock's lead was in double figures late in the game, but Kake rallied to close to within one point, 76-75, when Nick Davis hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left. Kake forced a turnover but on the inbounds play, Kake's Rudy Bean was called for stepping out of bounds and Klawock was able to run out the clock.
"It was a tough game," Klawock's Devin Edenshaw said. "That was a big call. At first I thought Nick was on the line. But when you play with heart, good things happen."
Bill Yockey scored 21 points to lead Klawock, while Devin Edenshaw added 19 points, David Nix scored 16 and Sid Edenshaw had 11. Yockey, Nix, Devin Edenshaw and Doug Edenshaw combined to hit nine free throws down the stretch to ice the win for Klawock.
"I thought we had it," Yockey said. "Free throws will win games. We'll have to play a lot better against Haines (today in the losers' bracket final)."
Bean scored 25 points to lead Kake, while Lloyd Davis added 19 points, Nick Davis had 10 and Mike Smith scored 10 points. The Tlingit Heat led 37-36 at halftime.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.