As tournament finals go, the Seniors Division championship game April 9 at the All Native Basketball held the promise to be one for the ages.
On the card were second-ranked Metlakatla AK and the Kitkatla Warriors, the 2018 and 2019 ANBT Seniors champions.
Kitkatla was undefeated throughout the week, knocking Kincolith, Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla and defending champion Skidegate into the elimination bracket.
For Metlakatla, the only hiccup of the week was the previous loss to Kitkatla, which was a hard-fought matchup with a close 80-75 result.
The final game never really did deliver on the promise, however.
An early run put the Warriors in the driver’s seat with a 10-2 lead. The Metlakatlans would rebound to bring the score back to within one point, but from there the outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
By the end of the first frame, Metlakatka was down by 11. In the second quarter, the Warriors, who were hot both in the paint beyond the arc, continued to pound the boards and drop three-pointers going on a number of small runs while limiting their opponents to single baskets between.
At the half, there was a 55-29 gulf between the contenders.
“Just a bad start,” said Metlakatla coach Jase Scudero. “We didn’t have a great first half, we put outself in a pretty big hole and that hurts.”
Metlakatla did show signs of the kind of stellar play they demonstrated throughout the tournament late in the third and early in the fourth quarters with an unanswered run of 16 to bring the tally within 12 points, but Kitkatla settled back into a solid groove for the 85-70 win.
“I told the guys basketball is a game of runs and (Metlakatla) made a run,” said Kitkatla coach Brady Bishop. “It was just trying to limit their runs because all those guys can shoot. Metlakatla is a great team, they’re going to be around for a lot of years.”
Bishop acknowledged the leadership of now three-time ANBT Seniors Most Valuable Player Jacob Thom, but attributed the championship to an all-around team effort.
“The way we played as a team this whole tournament, with the ball movement and the guys coming off the bench, it was unreal; it was just really great to see,” he said.
Thom rode his team-leading 29-point performance in the final to his third tournament MVP title.
Kitlkatla also produced one of the more touching sideline stories of the ANBT. The team’s roster included the father-son duo of Joe Lewis Sr. and Joseph Lewis Jr. When the Senior Division awards were presented Saturday night, both Lewises took home trophies, Senior for Sixth Man (presented to a player who comes off the bench) and Junior for Most Inspirational Player.
At just 17-years-old playing in the Seniors Division, Lewis Jr. had an outstanding tournament and was second to Thom in scoring for the warriors in the championship game with 23.
Mason Hayward was the standout for Metlakatla, as he was throughout the tournament, putting up 31 points in the losing effort.
Hayward was rewarded with both the Top Scorer and Most Outstanding Player Awards for the tournament.