The blood-pressure levels of players, coaches and spectators soared as the Yukon eked out a 57-51 win over Alaska in the semifinal of Arctic Winter Games junior female basketball at F.H. Collins Secondary School on Thursday.
The win puts the Yukon in Saturday’s gold medal game against an opponent yet to be determined.
The Yukon was in control with a 15-point lead in the first and second quarter. But Alaska did not go quietly, closing the gap and even taking small leads in the fourth quarter.
“I was hoping it wasn’t going to be that close,” said Yukon junior female coach Sarah Crane. “We had a big lead that we kind of blew … So it ended up being a little closer than I would have liked.
“I was really proud of the girls for staying calm and collected – keeping their cool under the pressure.
“They are not used to playing with so many fans. The gym was loud.”
Tied 51-51 with just minutes to play, the Yukon moved out in front on a steal from Colleen Prenoslo, moving the ball up-court to Mikaela Lane for the basket. Alaska would not recover. Free-throws from Quynh Nguyen, Lane and Prenoslo accounted for the remaining points.
“Colleen Prenoslo is a very important part of our team,” said Crane. “We rely on her a lot. She’s always making smart plays.”
The Yukon’s only loss of the Games going into the semifinal was to Alaska by the score of 69-63 the previous day. Alaska will now be playing N.W.T. Friday to get another shot at the Yukon in the final.
“Alaska seemed to find their groove,” said Crane of dropping the lead. “They started out the game a little slow and we started with intensity, but then it evened out and they climbed their way back.”
Prenoslo led the Yukon team with 21 points, followed by captain Robyn Fortune with 12.
The Yukon’s junior males are dangerous from beyond the arc, as N.W.T. found out the hard way in the semifinal of the junior male division.
Going into the fourth quarter, the N.W.T. was trailing by the surmountable margin of 11 points. But four consecutive three-pointers from the Yukon in the opening minutes quickly made it 66-46, and effectively secured the eventual 78-50 win for the Yukon.
“We can shoot the ball. I know we have some good shooters on the team,” said Yukon junior male coach Tim Brady. “We were missing shots in the first half so I guess the law of averages (dictates) we’re going to hit a few.
“Thank God we did because that turned the tide for us.”
In fact, counting the end of the third quarter, the Yukon was actually successful on five straight three-point attempts – in the order of Jake Jacobs with two, then Brian Prenoslo, then Rowan Huggard, then Brian Prenoslo again.
“Our defence played hard the whole game,” said Brady. “We turned it over a few times, which gave us a few more shots. But the Northwest Territories played real well and gave us a heck of a game.
“They are going to be a tough opponent if we have to play them again.”
The Yukon took the lead for the last time early in the third quarter on a fast break from Jacobs up to Bryan Hermosa for the lay-up, making it 43-41.
Mirroring the female division, the win advances the Yukon directly into the final to await the winner of a N.W.T. and Alaska match-up on Friday.
The Yukon is now the only undefeated team in the junior male division.
The Yukon’s Brian Prenoslo topped out with 31 points, Bryan Hermosa with 14, Jake Jacobs and Gerard New each with 11.
Following the semifinal, Prenoslo lead the tournament in points with 101.
The junior male final is taking place Saturday at 1 p.m. following the junior female final is at 11 a.m. Both games are at F.H. Collins Secondary School.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com