Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

'Old guys' lead Klukwan to Hotch tournament win


What the Dick Hotch Memorial Basketball Tournament lacked in participation, it made up for in parity, as the Klukwan Chilkats clinched the title after an inspiring run through the winners’ bracket.

The experienced Chilkats topped an upstart Harbor team in Sunday’s final, 79-66. Klukwan led early, but the Harbor held a 36-34 edge at halftime. The Harbor had the Chilkats on the ropes late in the game, until Klukwan went on an 11-point flurry, draining three 3-pointers and two free throws to take a 77-64 lead.

Andrew Friske of the Chilkats was the tournament’s top scorer and Most Valuable Player, and teammates Stuart DeWitt and Jason Enright were first-team all-tournament performers.

The Chilkats, mostly made up of 30-somethings who have competed together for decades, defied stereotypes by being the strongest second-half team in the competition. Michael T. Ward repeatedly urged his Harbor team to turn up the defensive pressure on Klukwan, shouting, “They’re tired! They’re tired!” but the Chilkats would not be denied.

“It’s cool to see these old guys beat up on the young crowd,” said fan Josh Benassi. “It speaks to the importance of practice.”

This year’s event had four teams, down from eight in 2012, with the Southeast Warriors of Juneau and Haines Merchants rounding out the field.

The initial bracket had squads from Whitehorse and Skagway that were unable to attend due to travel difficulties. The Skagway team was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning following a failed attempt to cross the Lynn Canal in a private boat. But the high level of play and the number of close games made it a success, said organizer Larry Sweet.

The tournament juggled its schedule to accommodate the absences, and the four remaining all seemed capable of dominating each other, or battling down to the wire, depending on which shooters got hot. On Friday night, the Chilkats trailed by about 20 for most of the game, before storming back to victory and sending the Warriors to an elimination game against the Merchants.

The Chilkats advanced to the final by holding off the Harbor Saturday to avenge an earlier loss in round-robin play, earning a well-deserved evening off. That set up the tournament’s most dramatic clash Saturday night. The Warriors, coming off a big win that knocked out the Merchants, trailed by three with a few seconds remaining. But the Harbor failed to convert on two free-throw attempts that would have iced the game.

The Warriors grabbed the rebound and Bryan Ryder sank a desperation trey at the buzzer to force overtime and send the crowd into delirium. The Harbor, though, weathered that shocking turn and took the win. Ryder received the event’s sportsmanship award.

Sean Bavard and Alex Fagerstrom were first-team all-tournament for the Harbor. The two were teammates at Juneau-Douglas High School. Bavard was one of the most dangerous outside shooting threats in the competition. Tony Tompkins of the Warriors also was a first-team honoree.

Second-team all-tournament selections were Jesse McGraw of the Chilkats; Dave Berry, Cody Hotch, and Harry Rietze of the Merchants; and Jacob Hotch of the Warriors.

Tournament MVP Friske became even more important to the Chilkats after injuries to Bo Graham and Joe Parnell left the team undersized while working through the bracket. Luck Dunbar was a force on the boards, but got into foul trouble in the championship game. Friske battled inside for rebounds, blocked several shots in the second half, and found success with pull-up three-pointers.

“I’m fortunate enough to run a tournament in Sitka and know the amount of work that goes into running a good tournament,” said Friske, the activities director at Mount Edgecumbe High School. “I just want everybody to thank Larry Sweet and his family for providing us with the Dick Hotch tournament.”

He challenged more young people to get involved and help Sweet, so more teams enter next year.

DeWitt, the tournament’s top scorer in 2011, missed last year’s competition with a broken leg but returned with his sweet-shooting self last weekend. He won the tournament’s three-point contest, draining 21 treys in a minute.

The Chilkats added young legs to their roster with the arrival of Enright, an assistant basketball coach for Metlakatla High School, which was in town for a series with Haines High School. The high-flying Enright has represented Metlakatla at the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament in Juneau.

Ryan Cook, Neil Erickson, Daniel Klanott and Jason Shull also suited up for the Chilkats.

Other awards presented at the tournament were to Ed Hotch of the Warriors, Most Inspirational; and Ed Warren Jr., Best Fan.

Longtime basketball star Eric McDowell was inducted into the Hall of Fame. McDowell, a Haines High alum, died last summer. At Sunday’s awards ceremony, one of his sportsmanship trophies was presented to Steve Fossman as a representative of all the basketball players in the Chilkat Valley.

Youth free-throw contest winners were Finly Shull, Haley Sweet-Cushing and Dylan Swinton. Krista Kielsmeier won the women’s three-point contest.


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