The Lower Kuskokwim School District’s Basketball Tournament concluded in nail-biting fashion on March 7. Both championship games came down to one possession, with the girls’ game going into double overtime. In both the boys and girls championship matches, Chefornak matched up against Toksook Bay. Chefornak came out on top in each contest, and the Shamans and Lady Shamans are headed to state.
The boys played first, pitting the Chefornak Shamans against the Toksook Bay Islanders. Toksook scored first, and pulled forward with a quick 8-3 lead.
The Islanders used an aggressive trapping strategy on defense, sending two, sometimes three defenders at the Chefornak player who had the ball. That led to a lot of Shaman turnovers early, but Chefornak’s passing got more precise by the second quarter, slicing through Toksook’s zone defense. The Shamans took a slim 33-32 lead by halftime.
The game stayed close the rest of the way. With 30 seconds left in the game, it was tied 58-58. Aaron Panruk had the ball for the Shamans, and senior Dawson Erik called for the ball.
“I was yelling for the ball from my teammate, Aaron Panruk,” Erik said. "I was hungry for the ball. I wanted it. I had a feeling I would make that shot. I released it and I was watching it, and at that moment I knew.”
The ball swished through the net and the crowd erupted. The final score was 61-58, Shamans.
This isn’t the first time that the Shamans have been here. Coach Robert Panruk remembers when the Chefornak boys won the district basketball tournament three years ago.
“Three years ago they were the big time underdogs,” Panruk said. “Now, three years later, they’re seniors. Now we’re not cinderella team, and I told them, 'Do it again. It’s up to you.'”
Team captain Aaron Panruk remembers sinking the game-winning free throws to win the championship three years ago, but he’s just as excited to win in his last year of high school basketball.
“It means everything,” Panruk said. “We worked hard to get to state. We worked hard.”
Coach Robert Panruk rushed back on the court to help coach the Lady Shamans, who were going up against the Toksook Bay Lady Islanders.
The girls’ game bore a striking resemblance to the one before it. The Lady Islanders took an early lead in the first quarter, and played the same blitzing defense as the Toksook boys. Number 4 for the Lady Islanders, Rosemary Henry, dominated early. She scored 10 points in the first half with her trademark euro-step. The Lady Islanders held a 20-17 lead at the half.
Chefornak fought back with team passing and three-pointers. More than half of their points came from beyond the arc. With 50 seconds left in regulation, Henry made a bank shot to put the Lady Islanders up by one, but Chefornak was fouled on the next possession and went to the line. Chefornak made one of the two free throws. The game was tied, and was going into overtime.
In the first overtime, the girls played stifling defense, and each team scored just one point off a free throw. In the second overtime, Toksook Bay held a 41-40 lead with 50 seconds left in the game. Chefornak inbounded the ball from the baseline for a jump shot. They scored and pulled ahead 42-41 as the crowd roared. Toksook missed on their ensuing possession, and that was the game.
Lady Shamans team captain Jillian Agimuk can hardly believe that they won.
“I thought we were going to lose because they’ve been beating us,” Agimuk said. “My coach, Eva, she’s seen our potential in us that we can beat ‘em, and we did it.”
Players from Chefornak and Toksook Bay shared embraces after the game, in displays of sportsmanship that permeated throughout the whole tournament. Players regularly high fived the opposing team’s player after they made free throws. The Tuntutuliak Lady Blue Jays and the Kipnuk Falcons were each recognized with the tournament’s sportsmanship award.
For most teams, their basketball season ended Saturday night. The Chefornak Lady Shamans and the Chefornak Shamans have one more battle to fight at the State 1A Basketball Tournament, starting March 18.