After 54 years without an All Native Tournament title, it was only fitting that the Kitkatla Warriors had to wait one more overtime to get their hands on the championship trophy.
The Warriors had to survive against a talented, veteran and determined Hydaburg team that would not stop fighting to win the finals in the senior men’s division 70-67.
“There’s no words that can describe how this feels,” said Warriors guard and tournament MVP Jacob Thom. “This year we were finally able to get over the top.
“Last year, we came up short in overtime, but our guys stepped up and made some big shots for the win.”
Kitkatla made it to the finals without losing a game on the winner’s side of the bracket. Hydaburg started the tournament strong, but were forced to play their final three games without their starting point guard, Vince Edenshaw, who was removed from the tournament prior to the semi-finals. Hydaburg lost to Kitkatla in the winner’s bracket semi-finals, but recovered by beating Ahousaht in the loser’s bracket semi-final to set up a rematch with the Warriors.
Kitkatla took control of the game early by moving the ball effectively on offence and shooting the ball well from the outside. Jacob Thom led the way for the Warriors with 13 points, including three deep three-pointers and tight man-to-man defence in the half-court. The Warriors were able to build a 34-20 lead at the end of the first half, but Hydaburg would not go away. The Alaska team outscored Kitkatla by seven points in the third quarter to cut the lead to 44-37, bringing the game within reach and setting up a wild fourth quarter.
Hydaburg, led by forward Damen Bell-Holter, opened the fourth on a 15-5 run to take a 54-50 lead with slightly more than three minutes remaining. Just when it seemed as if the game was going to slip away from the Warriors, guard Dustin Eaton hit back-to-back three-pointers to give Kitkatla a two-point, 56-54 advantage. Bell-Holter hit two free-throws to tie the game 56-56 before Thom was fouled and hit two free throws to extend Kitkatla’s advantage to 58-56. Hydaburg missed its next shot and Thom was fouled again with a chance to end the game with two more free-throws. He missed both attempts, but Kitkatla got the offensive rebound and Adrian Robinson was fouled once again with an opportunity to ice the game with a little more than three seconds remaining. Robinson missed his first foul shot and then made the second, giving Hydaburg a chance to tie the game with a three.
Bell-Holter took the inbounds pass, dribbled the full length of the court and drained a deep three as time expired to send the game to overtime. Much like last year’s final against Skidegate, the Warriors would have to play for five extra minutes to win the game.
“Damon hit that big shot at the end there, and we were like ‘not again,’” said Thom. “But our guys stayed with it.”
Kitkatla got off to a quick start in the overtime period, taking a 66-62 advantage thanks to early foul shots and a layup by Thom. Hydaburg responded yet again, however as Bell-Holter scored on a drive to the basket to cut the Warriors lead to 66-64 and then hit a deep pull-up three-pointer to give Hydaburg a 67-66 lead with less than a minute to go. The Warriors put the ball in Thom’s hands, and he delivered with a deep high-arching three of his own to give Kitkatla a 69-67 lead.
“I’ve practised that shot all the time, it’s nothing new to me,” said Thom. “I had all the confidence in the world that I was going to hit that.”
Hydaburg was unable to score on the following possession and Kitkatla held on to win the title and avenge last year’s overtime loss. As the final buzzer sounded fans streamed onto the court and cheered with the Warriors’ players.
“It feels fantastic, we’ve waited a long time for this,” said Warriors coach Clarence Innes. “I’m so proud of these boys.
“The effort they put in and the perseverance they showed was awesome.”
Hydaburg top scorers – Damen Bell-Holter (37), George Peratrovich (8), Nick Nix (7)
Kitkatla top scorers – Jacob Thom (36), Dustin Eaton (17), Charles Leeson (9)
MVP – Jacob Thom