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
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
Valdez 49, Kenai Central 44
Redington 36, Bethel 25
Sitka 33, Monroe Catholic 31
Barrow 60, Grace Christian 52
Valdez vs. Redington, 9:30 a.m. Main Gym
Monroe Catholic vs. Grace Christian, 9 a.m., Main Gym
Sitka vs. Barrow, 1 p.m. Main Gym
Alaska Boys 3A State Basketball Tournament
At Alaska Airlines Center
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
Mt. Edgecumbe 53, Hutchison 41
Barrow 55, Homer 46
Nome-Beltz 62, Houston 55
Grace Christian 51, Valdez 36
Mt. Edgecumbe vs. Barrow, 11 a.m. Auxiliary Gym
Houston vs. Valdez 10:30 a.m. Main Gym
Nome-Beltz vs. Grace Christian, 3 p.m. Main Gym