After building a 20-point lead midway through the first half, Klawock-Prince of Wales was losing its momentum.
The three-time defending B Bracket champion Haines Merchants had chopped the lead to two points twice late in the game, and the Merchants were threatening to steal the game. Just when things looked darkest for Klawock, though, David Nix saved the day.
Klawock led by four points with less than three minutes to play when Nix hit a 3-pointer. A minute later, Nix stole a Haines inbounds pass by forward Luck Dunbar intended for guard Stuart DeWitt and scored on a quick layup.
P.O.W., the lead was up to seven, just enough for Klawock-Prince of Wales to ride out the storm as it claimed an 87-77 victory over the Merchants in Friday night's losers' bracket final in Gold Medal Basketball Tournament action at Juneau-Douglas High School.
"That steal was huge," Andrew Friske of Haines said. "We had just been down by two, and that made it more than a two-possession game. I guess Luck didn't see him (Nix) hiding behind Stuart."
"They were still in their big push when I got the steal," Nix said.
With the victory, Klawock advanced into tonight's 8 p.m. championship game against Huna ANB. Klawock also avenged a 116-94 loss to Haines in Monday's winners' bracket action.
"That first game, they shot more than 50 percent from the field so we knew we'd have to stop them," Nix said.
In Monday's game, Haines had seven players hit double figures, led by Mark Byall's 35 points. On Friday, Friske and DeWitt were the only Merchants to score in double figures as both players finished with 24 points. Haines had more players finish in double-figure rebounding Friday than scoring as Friske grabbed 12 boards, while Dunbar and Byall pulled down 10 rebounds apiece.
"Being able to keep their big guys from hitting double figures was huge for us," said Klawock's Sid Edenshaw, who scored 23 points and grabbed 15 rebounds including nine critical boards in the second half when Haines was making its run.
Edenshaw, who is built like a 6-foot-3 longshoreman, was able to hold his own inside against Haines' taller players, including 6-8 center Ben Egolf who scored nine points but only grabbed four rebounds for Haines. Edenshaw is old enough that he played in the Legendary C Bracket, leading the Klawock Old Totems to the C Bracket title last year.
"Sid's a big guy and no one on our team's built like him," Friske said. "He knows how to use his body and he's so experienced. He's their coach. And in that 1-2-2 zone they played they were shutting us down."
"Each one (of Haines forwards) plays differently, and I had to figure out whether to front them or learn when to jump," Edenshaw said. "My experience helped. It feels good to be back in the championship game. The last time we were there was 1995."
Edenshaw's strength inside enabled the other Klawock players to focus their attention on the Merchants' outside game, which was led by DeWitt's eight 3-pointers.
"Sid can cover the middle, so we could play in our zone," Nix said. "It's a perimeter-oriented zone, not one designed to sag in the middle. Stuart got hot and was bound to hit a few, but we were able to keep them from penetrating to the basket."
While Sid Edenshaw dominated the middle, especially late in the game, the early tempo of the game was dictated by another Edenshaw.
Devin Edenshaw led all scorers with 36 points, with 23 of those coming in the game's first 10 1/2 minutes when Klawock took a 32-12 lead. Devin Edenshaw hit four 3-pointers in the early going, including three during a 20-0 run that took Klawock from one point down at 10-9 to a 29-10 lead before Byall broke the Haines scoreless streak.
"I felt like everything I threw up was falling," said Devin Edenshaw, who also had five rebounds and three steals.
Devin Edenshaw scored 47 points in Klawock's 94-88 victory over Yakutat ANB in Sunday's opener and at the time he said he was just warming up because he'd need to score 100 to beat Haines. He only had 23 points in Monday's loss to Haines, but now he's thinking about Huna.
"I've got one more game like that in me, I hope," he said.
Bill Yockey and Nix added 12 points for Klawock, which led 48-33 at halftime. Devin Edenshaw scored the first basket of the second half, giving him 28 points through that point of the game. But Haines responded with three straight 3-pointers, two by DeWitt sandwiching one by Friske, to close the margin to 50-42. After a Sid Edenshaw layup, DeWitt hit another 3-pointer and Haines was suddenly within seven points.
Klawock pushed its lead back up to 12 points, 62-50, when DeWitt hit another 3-pointer to bring the lead back to single digits. That 3-pointer kicked off an 11-2 run that brought Haines within three points, 64-61 with 8:47 left to play. Haines closed to within two points twice, at 70-68 and 72-70, but couldn't tie the score.
It was 74-70 with when Nix hit his 3-pointer to make it 77-70. After Byall scored for Haines, Nix made his steal and layup to put Klawock up 79-72 with 1:19 left in the game. The closest the Merchants got the rest of the way was six points.
"We hung in there," Sid Edenshaw said. "We've got a lot of younger guys and we hung in there through the losers' bracket. Hopefully we'll still be playing good in tomorrow's championship."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.