CIA Classic settled by free throws

When the buzzer sounded Saturday night signaling the end of the final game of the CIA Classic tournament, the Seldovia boys hoops team was celebrating a big 55-34 victory over Peninsula Conference rival Cook Inlet Academy, but it was another team walking away with the championship trophy.

The Soldotna boys JV squad took home the hardware after winning a tiebreaker based on the team’s free-throw percentage over the three days. The Stars compiled a 63.4 percent shooting mark from the charity stripe, while Seldovia ranked second with a 61 percent tally.

“I don’t care,” said Seldovia Coach Mark Janes with a smile. “We came here and wanted to do well. I mean, you do care, but the victory matters mostly just for our conference.”

SoHi, Seldovia and CIA all finished the tournament with a 2-1 record, locking the trio in a three-way tie. Ultimately, the winner was decided with free-throw percentage, and a head-to-head matchup decided the second- and third-place rankings, which is where Saturday’s game came into play.

Opinions on using free-throw percentage as a championship tiebreaker varied, but most competitors were fine with it.

“It’s got its downsides, but this early in the season, what a great teaching tool for my guys,” Janes said.

CIA Coach Justin Franchino said he was in favor of the format, which he described as “designed to make teams better.”

“I’m glad we didn’t get the tiebreaker,” Franchino said. “These tournaments are fun because you get to see other teams, and we got our weaknesses exposed. Now, going forward, we can correct the things we need to.”

The game itself went from being a barnburner to a blowout in pretty short order.

After a first half that saw CIA junior Timmy Smithwick score 21 of his team’s 26 points, Seldovia clamped down hard on the Eagles, holding them to only five points in the third quarter and three in the fourth quarter. Smithwick ended the game with 24 points.

“We played a lot of pressure defense and keep the pressure on the whole team,” Janes said. “We had one guy looking at (Timmy) the whole time.”

Seldovia’s suffocating defense left CIA with few options at the end of the game, but the Sea Otter offense wasn’t slacking by any means. Juniors Calem Collier and Aidan Philpot combined for 44 points, with Collier leading the way with 23 and Philpot adding 21.

“We just played tighter defense,” Philpot said of the second-half effort.

Philpot said his on-court battles with Smithwick and the rest of the CIA players over the past few years have fueled his desire to beat the Eagles on the court. Saturday’s win — even though his team didn’t claim the tournament title outright — made it all the more satisfying.