The Lumen Christi boys basketball team went from celebrating a Peninsula Conference championship, to lying dejectedly on the floor after seemingly losing a Peninsula Conference championship, to a frenzied celebration of an improbable Peninsula Conference championship.
All in the space of about two hours.
The first celebration is easier to explain. The Lumen Christi girls topped Cook Inlet Academy 51-20 in the Peninsula Conference title game at Soldotna High School on Friday. The boys were more than happy to join the girls in celebration.
The boys then regrouped and beat Ninilchik 72-71 in overtime for the conference championship.
After a taut third quarter, fourth quarter and overtime where momentum whipsawed back and forth to the tune of eight ties and six lead changes, it appeared Ninilchik had the game won.
Coming out of a timeout with 16 seconds to play, Ninilchik point guard and tournament MVP Landon Colburn drove the lane and dished to Jaylin Scott, playing on a twisted ankle he aggravated earlier in the game, for a layup and a 71-69 lead.
The final horn sounded after Scott’s basket, leading to a Ninilchik celebration at halfcourt while Archangels sat dejectedly on the floor. The noise level in the gym made one wonder how much louder things would have been if fans were not restricted to preapproved guest lists.
But hold on.
Coming out of that timeout at 16 seconds, Lumen head coach Adam Trombley had asked the officials if players could call a timeout. When told players could call timeouts, Trombley quickly called his group back and told senior captain Daniel Bennett to call timeout if Ninilchik scored.
Bennett was granted that timeout and .5 seconds were put back on the clock. The Archangels would have to go the length of the floor and score in that time. Still, it was life.
“They came over and I told them they’d have to spread out down low and we’d have to throw it,” Trombley said. “The rest is history.”
Daniel Bennett lofted a towering bomb to the right corner. Tim Bennett touched the ball like a volleyball soft set to Brenden Gregory, standing just a few paces away. Gregory caught and shot the ball almost in one motion, burying a pandemonium-causing 3-pointer from the corner as the final horn sounded — again.
And the Archangels boys were back celebrating — again.
Did the touch and shot all happen in .5 seconds? That will likely be talked about for some time in Ninilchik, but Trombley knows where he stands.
“It is good,” the coach said after sewing up a third state berth and second conference title in his four years as head coach. “I’ve gone back and forth and watched the video. I have no doubt about that shot.”
Ninilchik head coach Dick Hawkins said Ninilchik principal Jeff Ambrosier contacted the Alaska School Activities Association about the play and was told that once the officials leave the floor, the result stands.
Hawkins said he’s not about to get into sour grapes. He said the Wolverines had several leads late in regulation and overtime that they let slip away.
“We should have never allowed them to be in a position where they had the chance to do that,” Hawkins said of the game-winner. “That’s a ding on us.”
While all the Archangels experienced a wide swing in fortunes, none was as up, down and back up in the final minute as much as Gregory.
After Ninilchik’s Cole Hadro hit a pair of foul shots with 1:04 left in overtime for a 69-65 lead, Gregory cut it to 69-67 with a layup with 53 seconds left. He then had a steal and layup for a 69-all game with 30 seconds to play.
After another Archangels steal, Trombley was yelling to wait for the last shot when Gregory inexplicably triggered an errant 3-pointer with 16 seconds left, giving the Wolverines possession and the timeout to set up Scott’s layup.
“I’ve never been so angry at a kid in my life,” Trombley said of Gregory’s missed 3-pointer. “I just think he had a mental lapse. He’s pretty competitive and confident in himself.”
Trombley added Gregory already had a similar buzzer beater to his credit to send a state game to overtime a few years ago.
Tom Gregory, who is Brenden’s father and also the Lumen girls coach, said his son quickly became Dimond’s starting quarterback when Lumen students were allowed to join the Lynx football team this year.
So Gregory said it was a little ironic his son was on the receiving and not the throwing end of the bomb.
“He goes back and forth on whether his sport is football or basketball,” Gregory said of his son. “I’m guessing right now it’s basketball.”
The loss piled heartbreak on heartbreak for the Wolverines, who won Peninsula Conference and Class 1A state titles in 2016 and 2017. In 2019 and 2020, Ninilchik lost the conference championship, then the conference second-place game to miss out on state.
This season, the conference gets only one automatic berth to state because the tournament has been cut from 16 to eight teams due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, Lumen gets to go to state this season after qualifying last season only to see the tournament canceled.
The matchup belied two conference heavyweights, with both teams showing patience and tough defense, while still combining to produce 143 points through overtime. Ninilchik is now 13-3, also having lost to Lumen 63-54 in the regular season.
Colburn paced the Wolverines with 33 points, while George Nelson had 17. Colburn had six and Nelson had five of Ninilchik’s 13 3-pointers.
“Landon is an incredible player,” Hawkins said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Hawkins also thanked assistant coaches Nick Finley and Rod Van Saun for all of their hard work.
Colburn and Gregory sparred all game, with Gregory finishing with 21 points and three 3-pointers. Tim Bennett had four of Lumen’s nine treys for 23 points, while Noah Cruz had 13 and Daniel Bennett added nine for the Archangels.
Trombley said the victory took everybody, even players cheering on the bench who didn’t get in the game.
In addition to the big scorers, Trombley credited Robert Wilcox for his energy. After Wilcox fouled out with 3:38 left in the fourth quarter, senior Garrett Renfro came in and Trombley said he scored his first basket all season down the stretch.
“It’s really a shame Ninilchik will not go to state with the eight-team tournament this year,” Trombley said. “It’s disappointing that level of competitiveness, ability and coaching will not be at state.”
Lumen Christi girls 51, Cook Inlet Academy 20
In 2018, Lumen Christi had been around for 22 years when the girls won the Peninsula Conference title to earn a state bid for the first time.
The second Peninsula Conference title and state berth did not require nearly as long of a wait, and there could be more to come.
Riding a team of a junior, sophomores and eighth-graders, first-year head coach Tom Gregory led the Archangels to a convincing win over the Eagles in the conference title game.
The Eagles, who fell to 3-8, lost to the Archangels 36-31 on Jan. 30, but Cook Inlet coach Josh Hawley felt good about how much his team had improved since then.
A few weeks ago, Lumen lost to Birchwood, a team CIA defeated 35-30 in the tourney’s first round. Gregory said that classroom film sessions, where he takes the time to discuss the details that matter, made all the difference in defeating the Eagles on Friday.
“The following week, we beat Birchwood by 20 or 19,” Gregory said.
The coach also said the desperate hunt for games meant the Archangels played teams with larger school size, like Grace Christian and the junior varsity of the Anchorage Christian Schools program.
“Although it was rough getting beat by 20, 25, or even 40 by ACS, we learned a lot,” Gregory said.
Lumen’s defense gave its offense time to get rolling. The Archangels led 15-8 at halftime, then outscored CIA 36-12 in the second half.
“I expected them to win, because I have all the confidence in the girls,” Gregory said. “I didn’t expect them to win by 30 points. Josh and I have a great relationship. He does a great job of coaching the girls.”
By snapping up the tournament’s only automatic state berth, Lumen snapped CIA’s run of state berths at two. Tatum Rozak led the Eagles with 12 points.
For Lumen, Emily Ross led the way with 18 points, while Natalie Grubba and Amara Warren had 11 points apiece.
Ross and Grubba are just sophomores, while Warren, the point guard, is an eighth-grader.
“It’s impressive for that age,” Gregory said. “If she can do that now, it’s kind of hard to predict what she can do in the next four years.”
Gregory also said this was a huge night for Lumen, which was hosting the tournament at Soldotna. Father Tom Lilly, the school priest, and Brian Ross, the principal, came down for the championship sweep.
“What emotion,” Gregory said. “The girls win and less than two hours the boys win. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Cook Inlet Academy girls 38, Birchwood 27
The Eagles wrapped up second place Saturday by topping the Warriors for the second time in the tournament.
CIA finishes in the top two of the tourney for the third straight year, but unfortunately a runner-up finish does not mean a state berth this season. The Eagles finish at 4-8 overall.
CIA led 8-4 after the first quarter, 18-9 after the second quarter and 28-18 after the third quarter.
Tatum Rozak paced the Eagles with 16 points, while Maddy Buyse had 10 for the Warriors.
Ninilchik boys 60, Nikolaevsk 53
In normal times, Ninilchik boys vs. Nikolaevsk for second place in the Peninsula Conference tournament would have been another chapter in the great rivalry between the programs.
This year, the game lost some of its luster because second place in the tourney does not get an automatic berth to state.
Still, Nikoleavsk coed managed to hang around despite having just five players and playing its second game of the day.
The Warriors led 13-12 after a quarter, then the game was tied at halftime before the Wolverines won the third quarter 23-12.
Ninilchik moves to 14-3, while Nikolaevsk is at 3-4.
Landon Colburn paced the Wolverines with 25 points, while George Nelson added 15. For the Warriors, Justin Trail had 20 points, while Lukah Kalugin had 14 and Hannah Gerasimof added 10.
Nikolaevsk boys 76, Cook Inlet Academy 69
The remaining parts of a noble program held together for one more victory at the Peninsula Conference tournament, as the Warriors topped the Eagles on Saturday to advance to the second-place game.
Nikolaevsk coed moves to 3-3 overall, while the Eagles end their season at 7-5.
The Warriors have just five players on their team — three boys and two girls — but those players come from a boys program that had eight straight state berths coming into the tourney, and a girls program that had gone to state in eight of nine years.
Nikolaevsk went up 29-17 after the first quarter and was able to hang on for victory.
Kosta Fefelov had 34 points for the Warriors, while Lukah Kalugin had 20, Zoya Fefelov had 11 and Justin Trail had nine.
Birchwood girls 44, Ninilchik 34
The Warriors advanced to the second-place game and ended the season of the Wolverines on Friday. Ninilchik finishes 4-10.
Birchwood led 24-20 at halftime, then jumped to a 35-25 lead after three quarters.
Maddy Buyse had 17 for Birchwood, while Bailey Ober added eight. For Ninilchik, Jade Robuck had 13, while Autumn Calabrese had 10 and Rebecca Okonek added eight.
Nikolaevsk boys 46, Birchwood 32
Nikolaevsk advanced in the second-place bracket Friday and ended the season for Birchwood Christian. Nikolaevsk moves to 2-3.
Nikolaevsk led 11-9 after a quarter, but had a 26-16 lead by halftime.
Justin Trail paced Nikolaevsk with 15 points, while Lukah Kalugin had 13 and Kosta Fefelov had 12. Brandon Reich, Daniel Bracken and Dalton Rogers had six for Birchwood.
MVP — Emily Ross, Lumen.
All-tournament — Tatum Rozak, CIA; Maddy Buyse, Birchwood; Amara Warren, Lumen; Ella Phillips, Birchwood; Sabrina Warren, Lumen; Riley Tucker, CIA; Jade Robuck, Ninilchik; Hope Hillyer, CIA; Natalie Grubba, Lumen; Kaylee Reich, Birchwood; Rebecca Okonek, Ninilchik.
MVP — Landon Colburn, Ninilchik.
All-tournament — Brenden Gregory, Lumen; Cole Moore, CIA; Robert Wilcox, Lumen; George Nelson, Ninilchik; Justin Trail, Niko; Daniel Bennett, Lumen; Tim Bennett, Lumen; Kosta Fefelov, Nikolaevsk; Lukah Kalugin, Nikolaevsk; Dalton Rogers, Birchwood.
Friday’s girls championship
Archangels 51, Eagles 20
CIA 4 4 7 5 —20
Lumen Christi 8 7 19 17 —51
COOK INLET ACADEMY (20) — Pyers 0, Moffis 0, Liles 0, Duggan 2, Tucker 0, Rozak 12, Hillyer 6.
LUMEN CHRISTI (51) — Grubba 11, Ross 18, S. Warren 6, A. Warren 11, Tiernan 3, Estabrook 2, Renfro 0.
Friday’s boys championship
Archangels 72, Wolverines 71, OT
Ninilchik 17 11 19 14 10 —71
Lumen Christi 23 6 15 17 11 —72
NINILCHIK (71) — Colburn 33, Hadro 7, Scott 3, G. Nelson 17, T. Nelson 9, Ducker 2, B. Lemons 0.
LUMEN CHRISTI (72) — T. Bennett 23, D. Bennett 9, Cruz 13, Renfro 2, Gregory 21, Wilcox 4.
Nikolaevsk 46, Birchwood 32
Birchwood 9 7 5 11 —32
Nikolaevsk 11 15 5 15 —46
BIRCHWOOD CHRISTIAN (32) — Reich 6, Hoover 0, Huston 4, Maus 2, Bracken 6, Rogers 6, Brisson 3, Hanson 5, Vessey 0.
NIKOLAEVSK (46) — Gerasimof 3, Z. Fefelov 3, K. Fefelov 12, Trail 15, Kalugin 13.
Warriors 44, Wolverines 34
Ninilchik 11 9 5 9 —34
Birchwood 13 11 11 9 —44
NINILCHIK (34) — Denboer 0, Rickard 2, Okonek 8, Buhr 1, Calabrese 10, Robuck 13, Nelson 0.
BIRCHWOOD CHRISTIAN (44) — Ober 8, Phillips 7, E. Buyse 6, Brisson 0, Weihrich 0, M. Buyse 17, Reich 6.
Warriors 76, Eagles 69
CIA 17 18 20 14 —69
Nikolaevsk 29 16 14 17 —76
COOK INLET ADADEMY (69) — Matheson 2, Johnson 6, Henderson 0, Moore 26, Beard 2, E. Boyd 11, J. Boyd 6, Zeigler 16.
NIKOLAEVSK (76) — Gerasimof 2, Z. Fefelov 11, K. Fefelov 34, Trail 9, Kalugin 20.
Wolverines 60, Warriors 53
Nikolaevsk 13 16 12 12 —53
Ninilchik 12 17 23 8 —60
NIKOLAEVSK (53) — Gerasimof 10, Z. Fefelov 4, K. Fefelov 5, Trail 20, Kalugin 14.
NINILCHIK (60) — Colburn 25, Hadro 2, Scott 6, G. Nelson 15, T. Nelson 6, Adams 0, B. Lemons 4, Ducker 2.
Eagles 38, Warriors 27
Birchwood 4 5 9 9 —27
CIA 8 10 15 15 —38
BIRCHWOOD CHRISTIAN (27) — Ober 4, Phillips 7, D. Buyse 6, Brisson 0, Weihrich 0, M. Buyse 10, Reich 0.