By Van Williams
Classic Media Director
It may not have been David vs. Goliath, but it was close. No doubt the Grace Christian Grizzlies of Anchorage were in the deep end when facing a powerful Heritage Christian Warriors team that was ranked as high as No. 14 in California’s Division I rankings.
Grace weathered the storm early and made it rain late as Joshua Ivanoff’s go-ahead 3-pointer put the Alaskans in control as they posted a historic 53-50 victory in the championship game of the Alaska Airlines Classic in front of a crowd close to 3,000 at West High.
Led by coach Jason Boerger, the Grizzlies became just the fifth Alaska team to win a Classic title for a high school boys basketball tournament that dates back to 1989.
Tournament MVP Sloan Lentfer recorded a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds and scored all eight of his team’s points in the third quarter. Cousin Luke Lentfer just missed a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds. He also hit a big 3-pointer to tie the game at 44.
The Lentfers were double trouble all night. They had a couple sweet give-go baskets, with Luke feeding Sloan and Sloan feeding Luke, like maybe they’ve done that a few times growing up together.
They stood tall as Grace’s size – with the 6-foot-7 Sloan, 6-6 Kellen Jedlicka and 6-2 Luke – allowed the Grizzlies to win the battle of the boards 25-21, denying easy second-chance opportunities that allowed Heritage to torch Ketchikan and East Anchorage in the first two rounds of the tournament.
Heritage (15-7) came into the game having trailed for only 10 seconds in two games. And when Tae Simmons threw down a two-handed tomahawk dunk in traffic to help the Warriors jump out to a 10-4 lead early in the first quarter, you couldn’t help but think, here we go again.
It didn’t happen, though. Grace’s Tyler Binder buried two 3-pointers to end the quarter, the last one coming off a sensational skip pass by Sloan Lentfer that tied things up at 12 after eight minutes.
Grace (11-2) stayed true to its identity, putting on a half-court clinic and getting big shots along the way. Ivanoff twice hit big 3s in the second quarter, the second one putting Grace ahead 23-18. Moments later, Jedlicka’s layup pushed the cushion to 27-20 – the largest of the game and the largest deficit for Heritage since taking the court in Alaska.
Seven Bahati and Giovanni Goree stepped up with star teammate Simmons struggling to get going. The 6-foot-6 Simmons came into the game averaging 20.5 points for the tournament but managed only four in the first half. Others picked up the slack.
Bahati (14 points) was his usual explosive self as the 6-foot-4 skywalker was money around the rim. He was also effective on defense. He had nine points over the the second and third quarters, with his free throw putting Heritage ahead 37-36.
Goree (20 points) was in takeover mode as the 5-foot-10 point guard attacked the rim and showed off a soft touch over taller players in the paint. He had 11 of his team’s 14 points in one stretch of the first half. His and-1 drive gave Heritage a 40-38 lead and he also swished a 3-pointer to give his team a 47-44 lead in the fourth quarter.
Simmons had a dunk off a dime from Bahati to give Heritage its final lead at 49-45.
Grace played giant killer with the help of the ultimate equalizer in basketball – the 3-point shot. The Grizzlies outscored Heritage 24-6 from long range, getting four 3s from Ivanoff and two apiece from Binder and Luke Lentfer. Ivanoff and Lentfer each knocked down treys in the fourth quarter with the shot clock winding down, both times getting the shot off with about 2 seconds on the clock.
Ivanoff was incredible. With his team trailing 49-47, he drained the biggest 3-pointer of his life – just moments after shooting an airball. To have the confidence to come back in that situation is nails.
Credit also goes to Jedlicka, who sank 3-of-4 free throws in the final 71 seconds.
Heritage had a pretty good look at a tying 3-pointer in the final seconds, but the ball bounced off the rim, sending the Grace players and coaches running onto the court in celebration.
The last Alaska team to win the Classic was Colony in 2019.
Heritage 12 18 10 10 – 50
Grace 12 18 8 15 – 53
HERITAGE – Bahati 14, Grant 4, Perry 0, Fisher 4, O’Connor 0, Goree 20, Simmons 8.
GRACE – Finch 0, Ivanoff 12, Binder 6, Jedlicka 6, Jackson 0, L. Lentfer 12, S. Lentfer 17.