The Cook Inlet Academy girls basketball team outlasted the Nikolaevsk Warriors in a thrilling triple-overtime game to win the Class 1A state championship 43-39 March 20 at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
The strategy that the Eagles used in the second and third overtime periods proved to be the difference, as CIA simply held possession of the ball and nearly ran the clock out before attempting to score.
Senior Darlene Bunts had the game-winning layup with 28 seconds left in the third overtime, and Madison Orth iced the game with two free throws with 17.3 seconds remaining.
In a game that Nikolaevsk seemingly had won in the closing stages, CIA rallied back and ultimately took the victory — a victory that had eluded them in the Class 2A state title game last year.
For the Eagles, it’s their first state basketball championship, and for Nikolaevsk, their first state title berth.
The game was a defensive battle early on, as only 10 points were scored between the two teams in the first quarter in addition to 23 turnovers, and, like any championship game, the stat sheet showed no significant advantage for either team.
Tied at 15 at halftime, the Warriors began to distance themselves from Cook Inlet with buckets from Nianiella Dorvall and Sophia Kalugin.
Nikolaevsk held a 31-24 lead with 4 minutes, 31 seconds, left in the game, but CIA junior Nicole Moffis scored five of Cook Inlet’s seven points in the final minutes to tie it up at 31 at the end of regulation.
In the first overtime period, Moffis gave CIA its first lead of the game on a free throw with 12 seconds remaining, putting the Eagles up 39-38. On the ensuing possession, Nikolaevsk sophomore Kilina Klaich attempted the game-winning shot at the buzzer.
When she missed, CIA began celebrating, but the refs called the ball out of bounds and put four-tenths of a second back on the board.
That’s when it really got interesting, as Kayla Stafford put a shot up at the buzzer, but was fouled by Ashleigh Hammond from CIA.
“That .4 second call, I thought that was a gift,” Nikolaevsk coach Bea Klaich said. “We were able to catch and shoot and get a foul off of that, I thought it was perfect. Kayla has nerves of steel, and I thought she would drain both free throws, and let me tell you, she is really beating herself up over that.”
But, Stafford only hit one of two, and so it went to double overtime. That’s when CIA decided to hold the ball.
CIA coach Rustin Hitchcock said the plan played out well.
“We always had that in the back of our mind, and we knew if it’s an overtime game, if we got the jump, which Nicole was able to get over their girl twice, that’s what we wanted to do,” he said. “They just executed perfectly, and we have two of the best point guards in the league, and the third one’s coming up because she’s a sophomore. So we can just run that ball back and forth and if they’re not playing pressure defense, why not?”
In the second overtime, Hitchcock called a time out with 8.2 seconds left, and Cara Davidson’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer ended up as the only shot of the entire four-minute period.
CIA employed the same strategy in the third extra period, and it paid off when Bunts received a pass from Davidson and put in the layup with 28 ticks left, and Orth’s free throws sealed the deal.