Sitka girls sink top seed Monroe Catholic with late free throws in 3A semis

Robert Hundley

Marina Olney-Miller found herself in an unenviable position on Thursday.

The junior on the Sitka girls basketball team had watched from the bench as her teammate, senior Tawny Smith went to the ground grabbing her knee after a foul in the closing minute of their semifinal game.

With the game tied 31-31 and 21 seconds remaining, Olney-Miller calmly stepped off the bench and sank a pair of free throws to vault the Wolves past top seed Monroe Catholic 33-31 and into the Alaska State 3A Basketball Tournament championship.

“Marina has a beautiful shot,” Sitka head coach Mindy Bartolaba said. “I had all the confidence in her. She shoots them all the time and practices them all the time. I was happy she was able to seal the deal with them.”

The shots halted a comeback by No. 1 seed Monroe Catholic, which is located in Fairbanks. The Rams never led but tied the game 31-31 on Shannel Kovalsky’s shot inside with 1:35 remaining.

“I kind of just zone everything out,” Olney-Miller said. “It’s just me and the basket. I practice free throws every day, multiple times a day. (Wanted to make them) there for Tawny.”

Olney-Miller wasn’t sure she’d be called upon to shoot but as trainers attended to Smith it became clear she would have to leave the game.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Olney-Miller said. “I thought she was going to be able to get up and shoot them.”

Until that point, No. 4 seed Sitka’s main source of offense had come from Maitlin Young. The sophomore led all scorers with 18 points and was one of just four Wolves players to dent the scoreboard.

The Rams slowly crawled back after trailing 11-2 after the first quarter.

Sophia Stepovich and Kovalsky led the Rams with eight points each, but the latter missed a good chunk of time with foul troubles.

While Smith wasn’t a key scorer for Sitka, she was one of the many ball-handlers the team used to break the Rams’ pressure during the game.

“They knew they had to use everybody to do it and you end up having to do that to teams like this,” Bartolaba said.

Olney-Miller said the team will need to use all of its depth going forward after Smith’s injury.

“There are mixed emotions,” she said. “In the end we’re all really grateful we’re in the championship game.”

Alaska Girls 3A State Basketball Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center

Wednesday’s results

Quarterfinals

No. 1 Monroe Catholic 36, No. 8 Valdez 21

No. 4 Sitka 47, No. 5 Kenai Central 34

No. 3 Barrow 47, No. 6 Redington 40

No. 2 Grace Christian 59, No. 7 Bethel 15

Thursday’s results

Consolation

Valdez 49, Kenai Central 44

Redington 36, Bethel 25

Semifinals

Sitka 33, Monroe Catholic 31

Barrow 60, Grace Christian 52

Friday’s game

4th/6th place

Valdez vs. Redington, 9:30 a.m. Main Gym

Saturday’s games

3rd/5th

Monroe Catholic vs. Grace Christian, 9 a.m., Main Gym

Championship

Sitka vs. Barrow, 1 p.m. Main Gym

Alaska Boys 3A State Basketball Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center

Wednesday’s results

Quarterfinals

No. 1 Houston 58, No. 8 Mt. Edgecumbe 42

No. 4 Nome-Beltz 68, No. 5 Hutchison 39

No. 3 Valdez 52, No. 6 Homer 39

No. 2 Grace Christian 80, No. 7 Barrow 48

Thursday’s results

Consolation

Mt. Edgecumbe 53, Hutchison 41

Barrow 55, Homer 46

Semifinals

Nome-Beltz 62, Houston 55

Grace Christian 51, Valdez 36

Friday’s game

4th/6th place

Mt. Edgecumbe vs. Barrow, 11 a.m. Auxiliary Gym

Saturday’s games

3rd/5th place

Houston vs. Valdez 10:30 a.m. Main Gym

Championship

Nome-Beltz vs. Grace Christian, 3 p.m. Main Gym

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