Birchwood Christian boys make history
With a thrilling 57-56 win over Effie Kokrine in the Central Interior Conference championship March 3, Birchwood Christian School’s boys basketball team became the first in school history to earn a trip to the state tournament.
The Warriors held a two-point lead in the closing seconds, but fouled Effie Kokrine’s Curtis Tindall as time expired, giving him a chance to force overtime. Tindall made his first free throw but missed his second, giving Birchwood the win and the only Central Interior state berth.
Birchwood defeated No. 4 Tok 63-39 and No. 6 Effie Kokrine 45-37 en route to its conference title.
The Warriors’ quest for a Class 2A state title begins Monday, March 12 against Bristol Bay — the No. 2 seed out of the Peninsula Conference — at Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena at 8 a.m.
“We really want this first win,” junior forward Mike Rud said.
Birchwood hasn’t played Bristol Bay this season, or any other team in the tournament, Rud said.
“We’re kind of underdogs,” he said. “No one has ever heard of us.”
Keys for success will be playing strong defense and capitalizing on easy scoring chances, Rud said.
“We have a really stellar defense,” he said. “That helps a lot.”
Rud anticipates some nerves prior to the Warriors’ first game, as BCS has never played on the big stage before.
“We need to stay cool, don’t get too overexcited,” he said.
After tipoff, though, BCS will be just fine, Rud said.
“When we start, we’ll be playing our game,” he said.
Senior Isaac Foreman said BCS needs focus, cooperation and adaptability during state.
“We need to just stay positive,” he said. “Keep our head up each play. Win every play.”
Though first-round nerves are inevitable, Foreman said, the Warriors are going to come out strong against Bristol Bay.
“We’ll just be pumped up and ready to run,” he said.
Birchwood’s several strengths include being well conditioned, depth and the ability to know what everyone on the floor is thinking, Rud said.
“We work really, really good as a team,” he said. “We’re really cohesive.”
Rud said Birchwood was fired up following its conference championship and is ready to face the challenge of state.
“We’re really all excited,” he said. “We’re looking forward to playing our game.”
BCS girls go 2-2 in tourney; lose four seniors
Birchwood Christian School’s girls basketball finished 2-2 at the Central Interior Conference tournament last week at Anderson School.
Led by Rachel Smith’s 11 points, Birchwood defeated Effie Kokrine 39-22 in the opening round March 1. Sarah Jemar and Tracy Foster each added eight points for the Warriors.
The second-seeded Warriors then lost 38-28 to No. 3 Wasilla Lake. Savanna Cage led BCS with nine points.
Birchwood notched a 54-44 win over No. 4 Kenny Lake before Tri-Valley ended the Warriors’ season with a 50-45 win March 2.
Against Kenny Lake, Katelynn Becker led the Warriors with 16 points. Foster (12 points) and Jerilyn Nicholson (10 points) also reached double digits for BCS.
Foster scored a team-high 18 points against Tri-Valley and Becker added 11.
“The girls played really hard,” first-year head coach Amy Baller said. “I was really happy with our season.”
Birchwood suffered a setback when starter Ariel Rud tore her ACL prior to the conference tournament. But, Baller said, her team stepped up in Rud’s absence.
“With everything kind of changing last minute, they adjusted well,” she said. “They did a really nice job with that.”
The team also displayed great sportsmanship in the conference tournament, Baller said.
Birchwood made huge improvements from the beginning of the season, Baller said. Her girls were tasked with the difficulty of learning a new offense under a new coach, she said.
Baller said her team developed the ability to recognize and expose opposing teams’ weaknesses.
“They started thinking offensively,” she said.
Four seniors — Foster, Jemar, Nicholson and Smith — are graduating this year. The loss will be tough on next year’s team, Baller said.
“Whenever you lose somebody, it’s always hard to replace them,” she said.
Despite Birchwood’s small enrollment, the school has a lot of participation in basketball, Baller said. Three incoming freshmen should help fill the void left by the departing seniors next season, she said.