The first season Nikolaevsk Warriors head coach Steve Klaich started trying to win the Peninsula Conference championship — 1989-90 — Ronald Reagan and then George H.W. Bush were in the White House.
Klaich finally succeeded Friday night at Cook Inlet Academy, toppling Ninilchik 66-56 in the conference championship. The Wolverines were denied a third conference crown in four years.
The boys tournament came to a climactic head Saturday afternoon with one state berth on the line. In the end, the Lumen Christi boys punched their first ticket to state in six years with a tight 59-56 win over Ninilchik.
The boys MVP award was split between Nikolaevsk senior Michael Trail and Ninilchik senior Garrett Koch.
“It’s a relief,” Klaich said after Friday’s title victory. “We’ve had good teams for many years but we’ve never won the big game. It’s a thrill.”
The Warriors clinched a sixth straight berth to the state tournament, but the first five of those came due to runner-up finishes at the tournament.
Oddly, Klaich’s first triumph comes at a conference tournament he played without three of his injured starters — Randy Boquecosa, Isaac Fefelov and Zachary Trail.
“I told you at the beginning of the season that if I ever had my whole team, we’d be tough to beat,” Klaich said. “That never happened. I never had all 10 of my guys for any game this season.
“The boys managed to put it together. It took a team effort.”
Senior captain Michael Trail paced the Warriors with 20 points, while JD Mumey had 16, Justin Trail had 14 and Lukah Kalugin had 10. This one wasn’t decided until the final minutes of the game. Nikolaevsk used a little spurt to take a 36-29 lead at halftime. That lead held through the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Ninilchik went on an 11-0 run to take a 56-54 lead with 4:42 left in the game.
“They had a couple good shots and we had some turnovers,” Klaich said. “Against a good team, the momentum can change fast.”
Ninilchik coach Dick Hawkins said his team was more patient on offense and worked the ball inside.
“When we came back, they got a little nervous,” Hawkins said. “That helps.”
At that point, Michael Trail, the senior captain, asked Klaich if the Warriors could start pressing.
“I went with his instinct,” Klaich said. “He’s a smart player.”
Trail said he sensed the Wolverines were wearing down.
“They looked tired to me,” he said. “I thought we were well-conditioned enough to get some turnovers. It worked.”
The most pivotal play of the game came with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter, when Garrett Koch, a key ballhandler and the team’s top scoring threat, fouled out with the game tied at 56.
“The death knell was when Garrett Koch fouled out,” Hawkins said. “That energized them.”
Nikolaevsk’s press went into overdrive and Ninilchik would not score the rest of the game.
“I figured we had the game,” Trail said. “We really stepped up our press and got more aggressive once he went out of the game.”
Trail gave credit to sophomore Kosta Nikitenko and freshmen Lukah Kalugin and Justin Trail for stepping up in the face of the injuries.
Koch finished with 21 points and Cole Hadro had 13.
Lumen Christi boys 59, Ninilchik 56
Lumen Christi freshman Tim Bennett caught fire in the third quarter of Saturday’s second-place contest with 18 points on six 3s to help deliver the Archangel boys a spot in the state tournament.
Despite Bennett’s wild shooting clinic that finished with 21 points, he was still overshadowed by the game-high 37 by Ninilchik senior Garrett Koch, who received co-honors for MVP. Koch poured in 14 points in the second quarter en route to his massive scoring binge, which included five 3s and 15 total made shots. Ninilchik’s next highest scorer was George Nelson with nine points, including two treys.
The victory gave Lumen Christi its first boys state appearance since 2013, an accomplishment that had second-year head coach Adam Trombley beaming with pride.
“I can’t tell you, I love every one of my players,” Trombley said. “They bought into the system, they’ve believed in themselves, and they’ve really tried hard to execute exactly what we wanted to do to be successful.”
Last year, the Archangels lost by one point to Nikolaevsk in the conference second-place game.
One year later, the Archangels made sure to avoid that same fate.
“To have that go through here, it means everything,” Trombley said.
Ninilchik lost both regular season contests to Lumen, but just two days earlier had beat Lumen 52-45 in the tournament semifinals to advance to Friday’s championship, where the Wolverines lost the crown to Nikolaevsk. Lumen, meanwhile, rebounded to win three straight games to secure their spot at state. The Archangels beat Birchwood on Friday, then bested Nanwalek on Saturday to set up the second-place showdown with Ninilchik.
“It’s the simple fact that we lost a game to competition we know we can beat,” said Garrett Koch. “I don’t think we’re going to hang our heads at all. It’s just disappointing.”
Koch recorded all six baskets for Ninilchik in the second quarter as the Wolverines grabbed a 23-18 lead and were seemingly in control, but the 28-point third quarter by Lumen Christi changed everything.
“We had it, we were in control,” said Ninilchik head coach Dick Hawkins. “Then we came out that second half, and they started making the 3s and we didn’t react quick enough. They made about four 3s, and we finally figured it out.”
A trey from sophomore Cole Hadro extended Ninilchik’s lead to 28-18 early in the third quarter, but the tide began turning after a post bucket from Archangels forward Andrew Howard. From there, Lumen ripped off a 23-5 run to take a 43-33 lead with 1:35 left in the third, and Bennett had 18 of those points himself. Hawkins eventually assigned Hadro to guard Bennett to stem the bleeding, but at that point, it was too late.
“We should’ve called timeout earlier,” Koch said. “We didn’t recognize that he was hot until it was too late.”
“We had to catch up,” Hawkins added. “We lost the momentum and (Lumen) had it. Basketball is a sport of momentum.”
Trombley said Bennett’s shooting was nothing new to him or his teammates, but was glad to see Bennett break out when it mattered most.
“We made sure we executed to get him the ball,” Trombley said. “And he came through.”
On the flip side of the coin, Trombley said the Lumen game plan revolved mainly around Koch, who showcased his speed and agility against the Archangels with drives to the rim and pull-up 3-point shots that kept Lumen off-balance all game long.
“I said look, it’s the Garrett Koch show,” Trombley said. “They had 23 points at halftime and he had 21 of them, so really it was about stopping one guy.”
Koch is the only remaining player on Ninilchik that got significant playing time during the two state championship years in 2016 and 2017, and was able to use that experience to lead the Wolverines over the weekend. Koch said the message he got from Hawkins was to keep putting pressure on Lumen’s defense, which allowed the stealthy Ninilchik senior time and space to do his work.
“Just push the ball,” Koch said when asked what the message was. “Teammates did a great job getting open. Just came down to mistakes and breakdowns.”
In the final few minutes of the game, the pressure was put on Brendon Gregory, who scored the go-ahead points for Lumen on three consecutive opportunities. After Ninilchik’s George Nelson connected on a game-tying 3-pointer with 3:28 to go, Gregory answered with a layup with 3:07 remaining to put Lumen ahead 54-52. Jake Clark tied it up for Ninilchik with a pair of free throws with 2:56 left, but Gregory did the same to give the Archangels a 56-54 lead with 2:13 left.
Clark laid in a tying bucket with 1:35 remaining, but once again, Gregory was fouled and hit one of two foul shots with 1:06 to play, putting Lumen into the lead once more. Gregory sunk two more free throws with 27 seconds remaining to push the lead to three, and two desperation attempts by Ninilchik in the final seconds fell short.
Lumen Christi boys 62, Nanwalek 44
The Archangels advanced to the second-place game by defeating the Eagles on Saturday.
Nanwalek led 8-3 after the first quarter and 25-20 at halftime. Lumen won the third quarter 24-3 to turn the game around.
Tim Bennett had 25 points for Lumen, hitting four of his seven 3-pointers in the pivotal third quarter. Brendon Gregory added 22 points for the Archangels.
For Nanwalek, Uriah Huntsman led the way with 16 points.
Lumen Christi boys 50, Birchwood 34
The Archangels eliminated the defending conference champions Friday. Brendon Gregory had 26 to lead Lumen, while Brandon Reich had 15 for Birchwood.
Lumen plays Nanwalek at noon for a spot in the second-place game.
Nanwalek boys 59, CIA 25
Nanwalek eliminated CIA on Friday to advance to the second-place game.
Nanwalek led 17-10 after a quarter and 32-13 at halftime.
Uriah Huntsman had 15 points to lead Nanwalek, while Ben Botero added 11. For CIA, James Boyd had 11.
Boys All-Tournament team — Uriah Huntsman, Nanwalek; Lukah Kalugin, Nikolaevsk; Brendon Gregory, Lumen Christi; Jake Clark, Ninilchik; Justin Trail, Nikolaevsk; Andrew Howard, Lumen Christi; Joel Swanberg, Birchwood Christian; Ben Botero, Nanwalek; Daniel Bennett, Lumen Christi; Bradley Nunley, Birchwood Christian.
Boys All-Conference 1st team — Garrett Koch, Ninilchik; Michael Trail, Nikolaevsk; Bradley Nunley, Birchwood Christian; Uriah Huntsman, Nanwalek; Joel Swanberg, Birchwood Christian.
Boys All-Conference 2nd team — Daniel Benett, Lumen Christi; Hunter Moos, CIA; Zachary Trail, Nikolaevsk; Ben Botero, Nanwalek; Brennen Bogardus, Kodiak ESS.
Warriors 66, Wolverines 56
Ninilchik 13 16 16 11 — 56
Nikolaevsk 17 19 16 14 — 66
NINILCHIK (55) — Nelson 6, Hadro 13, Koch 21, Clark 9, Moore 0, Hess 0, Devila 0, Lemons 3, Moto 0, Mumey 4. Totals — 21 3-12 56.
NIKOLAEVSK (66) — K. Nikitenko 8, J. Trail 14, Kalugin 10, D. Nikitenko 0, Mumey 16, M. Trail 20. Totals — 22 15-25 66.
3-point goals — Ninilchik 11 (Hadro 4, Koch 4, Nelson 2, Lemons); Nikolaevsk 7 (Mumey 4, J. Trail 3). Team fouls — Ninilchik 22, Nikolaevsk 10. Fouled out — Koch, Mumey.
Nanwalek 59, CIA 25
Nanwalek 17 15 9 18 — 59
CIA 10 3 7 5 — 25
NANWALEK (59) — Botero 11, Tanape 6, Wilson 2, Bales 0, Joseph 8, C. Moonin 4, Hunstman 15, Evans 4, E. Moonin 4, Kvasnikof 5. Totals — 26 3-3 59.
COOK INLET ACADEMY (25) — Moos 5, Ja. Boyd 11, Johnson 0, Cragg 1, Beard 0, Leaf 4, Walsh 1, Anderson 0, Van De Grift 0, Peterson 0, Zeigler 3, Jo. Boyd 0. Totals — 8 6-17 25.
3-point goals — Nanwalek 4 (Joseph 2, Botero, Kvasnikof); CIA 3 (Ja. Boyd 3). Team fouls — Nanwalek 15, CIA 6. Fouled out — none.
Archangels 59, Wolverines 56
Ninilchik 9 14 16 17 —56
Lumen Christi 9 9 28 13 —59
NINILCHIK (56) — Nelson 9, Hadro 3, Koch 37, Clark 6, Lemons 0, Moto 0, Mumey 1.
LUMEN CHRISTI (59) — Gregory 15, Cruz 0, D. Bennet 11, Lynch 0, Bernert 0, T. Bennet 21, Howard 12.
3-point FG — Ninilchik 8 (Koch 5, Nelson 2, Hadro 1); Lumen Christi 8 (T. Bennet 7, Gregory 1).
Team fouls — Ninilchik 15; Lumen Christi 10. Fouled out — Howard.
Archangels 62, Eagles 44
Nanwalek 8 17 3 16 — 44
Lumen 3 17 24 18 — 62
NANWALEK (44) — Botero 9, Tanape 4, Wilson 0, Bales 7, Joseph 8, C. Moonin 0, Hunstman 16, Evans 0, E. Moonin 0, Kvasnikof 0. Totals — 20 4-11 44.
LUMEN CHRISTI (62) — Gregory 22, Cruz 5, D. Bennett 7, Lynch 0, Bernert 0, T. Bennett 25, Howard 3. Totals — 21 10-22 62.