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It seemed like Sitka American Legion dove a little harder for each loose ball, crashed the boards with a little more intensity, and hustled up and down the court with a little more gusto in its 84-64 victory over Tabby's Arctic Lights in Gold Medal Tournament action Thursday at Juneau-Douglas High School.
That's because the Sitka players held lingering memories of the drowning death of close friend John Abbott III, and they dedicated their drive toward winning a second straight Showcase A Bracket championship to their fallen friend.
``We're playing the tournament in memory of my cousin,'' said Sitka's Robert Miller. ``That's very important to us right now. I think we were playing more intensely than we usually do.''
Miller said Abbott was a close friend with everyone on the team. At the funeral, Miller said Abbott's father, John Abbott Sr., gave the team a message.
``He pulled a bunch of us aside and said `You guys play hard for my son,''' Miller said.
Miller and front-line teammates Steve Walker and Brandon Mehman certainly did that. The imposing three dominated play under the net, grabbing rebounds and hitting shots in the post and from the baseline. All are versatile big men who can score from the post, from outside, and can rebound.
``We were not able to establish much inside and that hurt us,'' said Tabby's Kevin Casperson. ``We relied on our outside shooting way too much.''
That reliance hurt the Lights early. Tabby's began the game just 1-for-12 from the field, with its lone bucket a 3-pointer by Casperson.
That was a big turnaround from Wednesday's 103-97 victory over NANA, where the Lights seemingly hit shots at will.
``As well as we shot last night, that's how poorly we shot tonight,'' Casperson said. ``I don't know how poorly we shot, but it was frustrating.''
Still, the Lights were down just 10-3 early in the game, and fought back to take the lead 14-13 a few minutes later. But that's when Sitka's Big Three began to dominate. Each took turns backing down Lights' defenders to key a 16-2 run and a lead Sitka never relinquished.
``We didn't get a lot of offensive rebounds,'' Casperson said. ``It was a couple of passes and shot and that was it.''
Mehman led all scorers with 20 points, while Miller had 16 and Walker six. Sitka guards Rich Krupa and Casey Demmert poured in 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Jason Bavard led Tabby's with 19 points, while Casperson and Joe Kemp each tallied 14.
Sitka advances to the A bracket championship Saturday night at 7 p.m. Tabby's meets NANA of Anchorage tonight at 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to the title game. NANA eliminated the Juneau All-Stars 92-72 in Thursday's losers' bracket game.
Casperson said injuries slowed down the Lights. Big man Phil Paramore was out with a torn muscle in his right calf, then hurt his left knee while favoring the injury.
``We missed him out there in the middle plugging things up,'' Casperson said.
Guard Ethan Billings was also returning from a torn calf muscle, and was not 100 percent, Casperson said.
The Lights and Sitka have won 10 of the last 12 A bracket championships, and met in last year's finale. The Lights, which feature a Who's Who's of former Juneau-Douglas High School stars, have a long history of competing in the Gold Medal.
Casperson noted that's something the team takes seriously. The Lights were undefeated in the local Ordway Basketball League, which determines who plays in Gold Medal.
``People always come up to me and say `I just want to play in one Gold Medal,''' Casperson said. ``That's why I never take it for granted. In Ordway
League our goal every year is to play in Gold Medal. I understand how special it is.''
NANA 92, Juneau All-Stars 72
Mark Haywood scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the second half to lead NANA past the Juneau All-Stars in consolation A bracket play Thursday. The All-Stars were eliminated with the loss.
Al Woods added 20 points and Kevin Smith 13 as NANA stayed alive to meet Tabby's tonight at 7 p.m.
Ken Willard led Juneau with 24 points. Doug Bogden added 19 and James Wilson 12.
SITKA 84 TABBY'S 64
Thursday's A Bracket Games
Rich Krupa 5 2-3 13, Casey Demmert 4 3-3 12, Chad McGraw 0 0-0 0, Richie Didrickson 0 0-0 0, Manny Torres 4 0-0 8, Kevin Mitchell 1 0-0 2, Steve Walker 3 0-2 6, Brandon Mehman 8 4-8 20, Robert Miller 6 4-6 16, Randy Nutting 2 2-4 7. Totals: 33 15-26 84.
Ethan Billings 0 0-0 0, Robert Casperson 0 0-0 0, Craig Kahklen 1 0-1 2, Erik McCormick 0 0-0 0, Will White 4 0-0 9, Jason Bavard 5 4-7 19, Kevin Casperson 6 0-0 14, Seth Hunt 2 2-2 6, Greg Huebschen 0 0-2 0, Joe Kemp 6 2-2 14. Totals: 24 8-14 64.
SITKA42 42 - 84
TABBY'S30 34 - 64
3-point goals - Sitka 2 (Krupa 1, Nutting 1), Tabby's 6 (Bavard 3, K. Casperson 2, White 1). Fouled out - None. Technical fouls - None. Total fouls - Sitka 16, Juneau All-Stars 23.
NANA 92 JUNEAU ALL-STARS 72
Wednesday's A Bracket Games
Chester Murphy 1 3-5 5, Jerry Carroll 3 2-2 9, Butch Lincoln 2 4-4 9, Rex Rock 1 0-0 3, Sam Towarak 0 0-0 0, Kevin Smith 5 3-4 13, Al Woods 6 5-6 20, Mike Abbott 1 2-4 4, Mark Haywood 10 9-14 29. Totals: 29 28-39 92.
JUNEAU ALL-STARS (72)
Jer Hamey 0 2-4 2, Joe Pelayo 1 2-2 5, Lonnie Anderson 0 0-0 0, James Wilson 6 0-0 12, Ken Willard 7 6-6 24, Franz Kugelman 2 0-3 4, Sean Jocsixn 2 0-0 4, Doug Bogden 8 2-4 19, Ken Kreitzer 0 0-0 0, Lance Geise 1 0-2 2, Jim Schultz 0 0-0 0. Totals: 27 12-21 72.
NANA41 51 - 92
JUNEAU ALL-STARS39 33 - 72
3-point goals - NANA 6 (Woods 3, Carroll 1, Lincoln 1, Rock 1), Juneau 6 (Willard 4, Pelayo 1, Bogden 1). Fouled out - None. Juneau (Bogden). Technical fouls - None. Total fouls - Juneau 25, NANA 17.