The East Anchorage T-birds stunned the state of Alaska lasted Saturday night by beating the highly touted and favored team to win state title, the Service Cougars.
However, this is March Madness and the T-Birds have beaten the Cougars in the past. Both teams match evenly with speed, athleticism, their team's philosophy to apply full court defensive pressure and the ability to hit from the three point line. The T-birds first win against the Cougars came February 13th in a home game. Junior guard Travon Bracket took the ball out under the Cougar basket and found a streaking Jarred Laws crosscourt for a buzzer beating three (66-65). In the Cook Inlet Conference Regionals the Cougars easily won (70-45) by dominating three of the four quarters in the game.
How hard is it to beat an opponent a third consecutive time? Especially one that mirrors your system? You can start by asking the Cougars as they held a lead and seemed in control of the game until late in the third quarter. The first quarter began with the T-birds aggressively attacking the basket and showing the same speed and full court pressure that the Cougars bring each game. The first quarter ended with the score 12-11 with the Cougars leading. During the second quarter the Cougars were in control as they go on a 10-2 run with 5:40 left. The Cougars senior guard, an All Tournament selection and Player of The Year, Adam Klie 13 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assist, and steal scored the next four points as the Cougars now led 26-15 with 2:58 left in the first half. The T-Birds would close the half at 30-19 giving the impression that the rest of the game was going to be a blur and the early predictions of a Cougar win; the first of its kind since 1991 was about to become a reality.
But this prediction would be to no avail as the T-Birds did not reflect at all on the past games, only on the fact they came to win. In the Regional Championship game the T-birds were only able to score 25 points total in the second half, and 30 points was the largest lead held by the Cougars. All State Tournament players Desmond Johnson, Xavier Johnson, and Jarred Laws combined for 25 points total in that game.
It's a new game and it's for all the marbles, and right out of halftime the Cougars respond as any senior led team would, with a 6-0 run. The score is 36-21, the largest lead at 15. The T-Birds call their second timeout of the third quarter with 4:36 left. There is a sense in the arena that the T-Birds feathers are ruffled and the Cougars will take the throne with the clock striking 2:36, 41-29 Cougars lead.
As we close to the 2:00 minute mark senior guards Xavier Johnson 16 points, 5 rebounds, hits two and Jarred Laws 21 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assist, 3 steals and sophomore point guard Desmond Johnson 13 points, 5 rebounds, step up and help drop the lead to five with big contributions coming from unheralded senior forward Matt Hardwick who scored on an offensive rebound and was fouled by Klie.
This was a huge momentum builder for the T-Birds and bad news for the Cougars as their leader received his fourth foul, forcing Klie to sit with 38.2 seconds left in the third quarter, 43-38 Cougars.
In the fourth quarter the T-Birds take advantage of Klies departure and go on their own 8-0 run before the Cougars manage to score again. T-Birds take the lead on Laws' shot off the glass, with 6:25 left in the game, giving the T-Birds the lead; they haven't led since early in the first quarter (44-43). Loud rupture of excitement and joy arose from the crowd as if the crowd wanted to see this upset.
Now it's a battle as they tie at 48 points apiece. Thereafter, Desmond Johnson crosses over a would-be Cougar defender off the bounce, jump hops into the paint and finishes with a silky smooth finger roll, drawing "oohs" from the fans as the ball falls in and he is fouled with 4:22 left, 51-49.
Klie enters back into the game with 2:50 left and attacks the basket and rebounds to try and rescue his team's sinking hoop dreams. Klie scored 6 points and had 2 offensive rebounds and 1 defensive rebound in 1 minute and 10 seconds, before committing his fifth foul which caused confusion and anguish for Klie and all Cougar fans with 1:21 left to play, 58-54 T-Birds. Cougars were led by All Tournament senior forward Marques Robinson with 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 steals and senior guard Amu Aukusitino with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal.
As for the T-Birds, they are getting ready to celebrate and enjoy the fruits of their labor. As the Coach of the year, Muehlenkamp, congratulates his bench sensing the victory. Desmond Johnson is on the free throw line shooting with 48.2 left in the game; score 62-56, T-Birds. The substitutions have been made and the last shot is in the air for the Cougars with 1.2 left on the clock but the East Anchorage T-Birds have made history and have taken their destiny into their own hands and now are the Champions winning 66-59.
"Lost eight games last year by less than five and that was with kids who never played varsity. We may have taken our lumps last year but I think you see the results this year, players paying attention to details and responsibilities" said Coach Muehlenkamp.
"I feel like we showed everybody we could do it. We didn't do it once, we did it twice. We proved everybody wrong in State. Everybody said that Service was going to win and go undefeated, didn't think we had a chance, even after we beat them the first time. Now look at us!" said Desmond Johnson.
"It's our character, we never give up, and Coach always pushes us in practice, during wind sprints and everything. We got to work for it, can't change it up in practice because if we do, it won't show up in games" reflected Jarred Laws.