THE MIGHTY 'B' BRACKET
The Haines Merchants showed off their adaptability as they claimed their third straight Mighty B Bracket championship with a thrilling 93-86 victory over Hoonah ANB late Saturday night to wrap up the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament at Juneau-Douglas High School.
The Merchants were already missing two key components of their previous championships when brothers Josh and Link Fannon couldn't attend this year's tournament. But the Merchants also had to adjust on the fly during the week as injuries hobbled most of their starting forwards.
Luck Dunbar couldn't play in Saturday's championship game after chipping a couple of bones in his foot and tearing a ligament in his ankle during Haines' losers' bracket final Friday night against Kake Tlingit Heat. Then, early in Saturday's title game, center Jeff Sharnbroich aggravated an earlier leg injury and had to sit the rest of the game.
Even though the Merchants trailed through nearly the entire first half and midway through the second half, they still had enough players to come from behind against Hoonah.
Andrew Friske scored 38 points and Jason Shull added 30 to lead Haines, while Jesse McGraw chipped in 14 points and Stuart DeWitt contributed nine. Friske earned tournament MVP honors, while DeWitt was on the all-tournament first team and Shull on the all-tourney second team.
"It was a total team effort," Friske said. "Our whole bench is unselfish and everybody played. We showed we all have to play as a team. This is three years in a row in a competitive division. It was all teamwork."
"It was awesome," Dunbar said of the victory. "They played good without any big guys."
Hoonah was led by Travis Dybdahl's 29 points, while Nate Strong had 24 points, Kamal Lindoff scored 15 and Mike Mills added eight. Dybdahl and Strong both earned spots on the all-tournament first team, while Lindoff was on the all-tourney second team.
Haines regained the lead with 6 minutes, 24 seconds left to play, and then it was a constant battle as Hoonah kept within three to five points the rest of the game. Hoonah pulled within two points with 50.1 seconds left, and again with 17.2 seconds left, but each time Haines had an answer -- usually two made free throws -- to keep the lead.
"We stayed calm and stayed as a team, and we got a couple of easy buckets," Friske said. "Keeping a two- or three-point lead was critical, because we always had that cushion. We were able to keep fresh by going to our bench."
Both teams shot exceptionally well from the free-throw line, with Haines making 22 of 26 shots in the second half and Hoonah converting 12 of 15 chances.
"It seems like we all hit a bunch," said Shull, who made 14 of 16 free throws while Friske was 10-for-13. "I've got too much adrenaline. I'm still on a roller coaster. It's a lot of fun to play it out in this division. Every team is competitive. There are a bunch of really good teams."
Haines lost to Hoonah in the second round of the tournament, but for the third straight year was able to rally to the championship from the losers' bracket. It's been at least eight years since a team won the B Bracket title from the winners' bracket.
"We were able to get our chemistry together," McGraw said of the extra games. "We had all the momentum from losing to them, then winning all our games while they were sitting. We're able to play better together with more games."
Hoonah's chances to close the gap were hurt when point guard Russell Dick went down with a twisted knee with 3:53 left in the game, then Hoonah's three top scorers all fouled out in the game's last 45 seconds.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.