The Huna Totem Oldtimers earned another shot at the 57th Annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament's Legendary C Bracket title by defeating the Klukwan Chilkats 78-67 on Friday at the Juneau-Douglas High School gymnasium.
The defending champion Totem Oldtimers avenged a first-round 59-58 loss to the Chilkats and move into tonight's 6 p.m. title game against the Klawock Old Totems.
"Yes, this feels good," Huna's Stu Mills said. "We thought we should have had it the first game. The team sure pulled together tonight."
"It was a typical Klukwan-Hoonah game," Klukwan's Roger Sele said. "You never know what's going to happen."
Huna started quickly and took a 12-0 lead in the first few minutes of the game. But Klukwan didn't let the Oldtimers get away from them like Klawock did the night before in the semifinals and stormed back to take the lead 23-20 on a Steve Fossman 3-pointer.
Fossman and Huna's Louie White got into a tangle early in the first half, but both players laughed it off after the game, saying it was just competition.
"He's (Fossman) as competitor and he's a class act," White, who finished with 16 points, said. "He brings out the best in me. It was nothing."
The Chilkats extended their lead to 32-23 with 2:48 to go in the first half on another basket by Fossman and went into the break with a 36-27 lead.
Klukwan held the Totem Oldtimers at bay until the 15:18 mark when Huna's Stu Mills hit a 3-pointer and a 12-footer to pull them to within 45-41. Huna reclaimed the lead on a 3-pointer John Martin Jr. to make the score 51-50 at the 9:34 mark.
"Sometimes it just feels like I hit them when we need it," Martin Jr. said. "It's like I shot that way the whole tourney."
It was a back-and-forth game until the final three minutes when Klukwan started putting Huna at the line. The Totem Oldtimers converted 14 of 16 free throws at the end of the game and Klukwan could not close the gap as the vocal Hoonah crowd began to chant.
"Instead of making them shoot the ball, we had them go to the line," Klukwan's Roger Sele said.
"We trained so hard and we lost that first game. I felt bad for our fans," Huna's Louie White Sr. said. "It means so much to the community. I don't play so much for myself; I play for them. It's a great thing hearing the crowd chant 'Hoo-nah, Hoo-nah, Hoo-nah'"
Martin Jr. led the Totem Oldtimers with 21 points, Mills had 18, Greg Garcia scored 17 points, including 15 in the second half, while Pete Schneeberger rounded out Huna's scoring with six points. Only the five starters scored for the Totem Oldtimers.
"These guys play us tough every year," Martin Jr. said. "This year I just think we are in better shape. Last year they went the long way through the bracket; this year, we did."
"We came through the bracket and are coming up on game six," White said. "We're starting to know what each other's tendencies are. Garcia is such a great shooter and a great clutch shooter. He makes life so easy and Schneeberger is adding to his point total this Gold Medal."
Greg Stigen was Klukwan's high scorer with 22 points, Fossman scored 19, Guy Tompkins scored 11, and Joe Parnell and Terry Friske each scored five points.
The title game between Huna and 2001 C Bracket champion Klawock will pit two very different styles of basketball against each other. Huna plays a run-and-gun style of play while Klawock relies on their size to dominate the glass.
"They (Klawock) have size - they like to get their lead and trade buckets," White said. "It's going to come down to whoever controls the boards, controls the game. We can do it by boxing out - just fundamental boxing out."
"I'm just glad we don't have to play those big guys again," joked Tompkins.
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and a former Empire sportswriter. He can be reached at 209-7427.