Daily Sitka Sentinel
And coach Archie Young said he’s adopted a motto that is common for NCAA teams this time of year: survive and advance.
“I think we’re capable of winning that first game,” Young said. “There’s no bad teams up there (and) it doesn’t matter if you play poorly, you just have to win.”
Barrow will enter Thursday’s game against MEHS at Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena on a nine-game winning streak. The Whalers, led by all-state players Colin Long and Eddie Benson, rolled through their regional tournament and come into the 2012 state championships looking to improve on back-to-back third-place finishes at state.
The Whalers are physical and talented and always seem to show up in Anchorage with a large group of enthusiastic fans.
But Mt. Edgecumbe senior Jaylin Prince, a three-time state champion wrestler who is no stranger to big moments in the postseason, said the Braves are up to the challenge.
A year after entertaining state title aspirations, the Braves come into the state tournament as a bit of a dark horse. And that’s fine by Prince, who pointed out that the best teams, or at least the most highly touted, don’t always win in March.
“We have a chance to come from the back-door side, rather than the front-door side,” Prince said Monday evening, as he took a quick break from shooting drills at B.J. McGillis Gymnasium. “They’re the ones that have the pressure.”
Fellow senior Cody Sherman, who like Prince was part of the Edgecumbe team that dropped its opening-round state game to eventual champion ACS in 2011, said the Braves didn’t enjoy losing their first-round game last year and are looking to avoid that fate this time around.
“That’s the plan,” said Sherman.
The Braves are making their third straight trip to state. They won their opening game in 2010, but ran into a tough Nome team in the semifinals before dropping the third-place game to Barrow. The Braves were sixth last year. They rebounded from the loss to ACS with a win over Galena, then dropped the fourth-place game to Seward.
Asked what the Braves need to do to score the upset over Barrow, Sherman said the main concern for MEHS was slowing down Barrow’s outside shooters.
“They’re mostly threes,” he said. “We need to rotate on the passes and talk.”
Coach Young said Barrow has some talent in the post, but he mostly echoed Sherman’s assessment. He said Barrow has four players who hit three three-pointers during a game this season.
“They’re going to get some, we just have to make sure the shots are contested,” Young said.
The Braves are 16-9 overall on the season. They fell to Sitka High in the Region V final March 2, then came back the next day to beat Metlakatla and earn Southeast’s second bid to state.
The Braves have been a touch inconsistent this season, but their resume features a road win over Juneau-Douglas and the Braves have shown an ability to win games playing a variety of styles.
They can press and push the pace offensively, if necessary, but also employed a four-corners offense at times, including in a tight 27-24 win over Haines at the Region V tournament.
“They’ve done a great job trying to do what we’ve asked them to do,” coach Young said.
Regardless of who they play, the Braves are always competitive, relying mostly on their five starters. Prince and Sherman are joined in the rotation by juniors Kacy Green, Leo Ford and Dominique Hall. Grant Akaran is the sixth man for MEHS, with Calvin Frankson, Kenny Jackson and Vance Gregory getting a few minutes here and there. Foul trouble can cause problems for the Braves, but the games at Sullivan Arena are typically more physical than what players experience in Southeast. And that could benefit the Braves.
Young said Barrow plays man-to-man defense and also 1-2-2 zone. The Braves stick with a 2-3 match-up zone pretty much from wire-to-wire in most games. Offensively, the Braves are at their best when they’re penetrating and getting to the rim. Sherman and Green are both tough slashers and once they’ve scored on a drive or two and the defense starts to collapse, Prince usually finds himself open in the paint. And the senior from Kotlik has good touch inside.
Hall and Ford have both taken turns leading the team in scoring this season
Young and his team reviewed tape of a recent Barrow game as part of their tournament preparation, but the focus for MEHS has mostly been on execution.
“You have to do what you do well and exploit their weaknesses,” Young said.
Most of the talk heading into state has surrounded ACS and Monroe, the top-ranked teams in the state. The Braves, meanwhile, are just focused on getting that first win. Beating Barrow would likely mean a second-round game with the ACS Lions and a chance for the Braves to really turn the state brackets upside down.