Aurora Conference Regional Tournament [March 12th-14th]
Courtesy of VHS Coaches – The Buccaneers traveled to North Pole on Wednesday, March 11th, to compete in the Aurora Conference Regional Tournament, which was technically hosted by the Galena Hawks but was occurring at North Pole High School in conjunction with the MAC (Mid Alaska Conference) tournament.
The Bucs entered the tournament as the #3 seed and were slated to take on the #6 seed Eielson Ravens at 1030 on March 12th.
In hindsight, the trip started a bit ominously. A 30 + mile stretch of the Richardson Highway between Glennallen and Delta was closed at the time of the scheduled departure, necessitating a detour along either the Parks Highway or the Tok Cutoff. Once loaded, the bus made it approximately 30 feet before the driver stopped and declared a maintenance issue that required him to call a mechanic. Fortunately, the issue was able to be resolved over the phone and only delayed the departure by about 10 minutes.
Once en route, the drive was much better than previous ones that occurred in January or February, as the sun was out, the road was in good shape, the wind was a non-issue, and it was not -40 degrees. During the traditional stop in Glennallen, a quick check of the status of the Richardson Highway revealed it was still closed. The Tok Cutoff, however, was in good condition and was determined to be our preferred route – adding a mere 50 miles to the overall trip. Truth be told, the change of scenery was welcome. Plus, one forgets just how flat and straight the road from Tok to Delta truly is. A much different driving experience than the curves around Summit and Paxson Lakes.
The Bucs were slated for a 4:30-5:30 practice slot but only arrived at North Pole High School around 4:26 – to the apparent surprise of the staff who appeared unaware that the 57 people arriving were scheduled to actually stay at the school. Once assigned a classroom that was to serve as the sleeping quarters for 4 nights, the Bucs settled in and prepared for their practice – which had been moved to 5:30. At approximately 5:45, right before the Bucs were about to complete the North Carolina slide portion of their pre-game warmup routine, administrators from North Pole High School informed coaches that the 2020 Aurora Conference Regional Tournament had been canceled.
While not a complete shock, given the breaking news that the NBA season had been suspended, the Governor had declared a state of emergency, and ASAA announced the “postponement” of the State Tournament, the news was difficult to process – especially when coupled with the fact that the Western, Southeast, and Southcentral Regional Tournaments were continuing as scheduled.
A mantra of the team throughout the year was “worry about what you can control.” On the court, that is things like energy and effort – not officials. To their credit, the Bucs took this news in stride and recognized it was out of their control. After a dinner break, they took it upon themselves to make the most of it. The only other team in the building at that time were the “host” Galena Hawks. The two squads, without coach interference, arranged a scrimmage – complete with coaches, scoreboard, timed quarters, and officials (kind of).
Peyton Gage filled in as the Valdez coach, while Hayden Howard and Hunter Mathews assisted lead official/timekeeper/ring master/trash talker Jimmy Chavez. The “game” was attended by many of the lady Bucs and Hawks squads, coaches, and even some elders that had flown in from Galena.
Closely contested throughout, the game featured some hockey-like substitution rules, relaxed uniform requirements, and some suspect officiating. Much like his shooting percentage from long-range for the year, it seemed as if Chavez got about 2 out of 5 calls correct.
Regardless, the game entered the half with Galena up by two possessions. Halftime adjustments by Gage proved effective as the Bucs came out in the third quarter and scored a handful of quick baskets, forcing Galena into a timeout. From there the affair was a back-and- forth barnburner, with each team hitting timely shots. In one of the final possessions of the game, Valdez led by 3 with :17 seconds remaining when a Galena sharpshooter found himself open in the corner and buried a deep three to tie the score with 7 seconds remaining.
Undeterred, Gage called a quick timeout- his last for the game- and drew up a play. The stage was set: :07 seconds remaining, tie game, Valdez ball, needing to take it the length of the court to score and avoid overtime.
Galena applied soft full-court pressure, denying Jalen Freeman the ball on the inbound. Their game plan was clear: make somebody else other than Freeman beat them. Bryce Tucker proved up to the challenge, as he received the inbound near the opposite baseline and -in an aggressive manner that coaches hope to see in upcoming years – drove to the right wing, where he launched a mildly contested 3-point shot with under 3 seconds remaining. Nothing but net!
Galena’s desperation attempt at the buzzer was offline, as Valdez ended the season in dramatic fashion, sealing a hard-fought 85-82 victory.