The Thunder Mountain High School boys and girls basketball teams are showing they are becoming a force in Southeastern basketball circles, even though they each dropped their weekend series.
The Falcons boys played the state’s fourth-ranked 3A power the Sitka Wolves (15-2), at Sitka, and were in charge of both games. TMHS fell on Friday 68-56 after leading in the first quarter12-9 and at the half 27-20.
On Saturday the Falcons found themselves down after one quarter 16-7 and 31-20 at the half.
“I was very impressed with Sitka,” TMHS coach John Blasco said. “They have two very strong posts that play well together and strong guard play. It was a good challenge for us to play against a team that was bigger and stronger than us across the board. It is good preparation for us when we play a team like JD that has some good size and strength.”
Blasco compared the Wolves to the 4A power Palmer. The Moose had a strong showing at the recent Thunderdome Tournament.
The Falcons weren’t intimidated by Sitka’s strength. A strong third quarter start, with Matt Seymour connecting on back-to-back buckets, made the score 33-30, the closest it had been since early in the first period.
The Wolves connected on two straight treys from beyond the arch to make it 39-30 with 2:50 remaining in the third. The Falcons again rallied and when Ty Grussendorf nailed a triple at the end of the quarter Thunder Mountain had pulled to within 41-38.
Sitka again surged ahead, taking a 52-42 lead on an 11-4 run to start the fourth period. The Wolves pushed to their biggest lead of the night at 55-42 with five minutes remaining.
With 1:15 left in the game Grussendorf again hit from deep to make the score 61-52. Keith Ainsworth stole the ball, had it stolen back, and was then fouled and calmly sank two shots to close within seven, 61-54.
The Falcons fouled and Sitka could not buy a made free-throw.
Villi Tupou sank a deep three with 17 seconds remaining to close within four at 61-57. Sitka again missed free throws and Grussendorf’s shot at the buzzer just missed the mark.
The Wolves were in double bonus at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and hit 13-28 for the game, TMHS went 8-20.
Ainsworth led the Falcons with 17 points. Grussendorf added 12, all of which came in the second half on four shots from beyond the three-point-line. Ben Jahn had eight points, Sam Jahn five, Seymour, Josh Tupou and Travis Johnson four each, Villi Tupou three. Devan Romine scored 22 points, Potruzki added 12 points and Bae Widmier nine for Sitka.
Blasco stated the Falcons learned a lot about the challenge of playing on the road.
“You are not in front of your home crowd and are against a tough opponent,” Blasco said. “It is a 32-minute ball game and a game of runs. You want to make the runs go your way and have the last one. I felt like Sitka controlled both games and when we made a run they didn’t really seem shaken. They had good senior leadership that helps control that.”
In Friday’s 68-56 Falcons loss, Ainsworth led the Falcons with 18, S. Jahn 11, B. Jahn eight, Allen Shaw six, J. Tupou and V. Tupou four apiece, Grussendorf three, and Johnson two. Romine had 19 for Sitka, Widmier 17, Potruski 17, Way seven, Puletou and Dela Cruz four, and Lee three.
“We came out flat on Friday,” Blasco said. “We are still trying to get a good flow going now that we have Keith (Ainsworth), Travis (Johnson) and Sam (Jahn) all back in the lineup and comfortable with each other.”
Sitka used a mix of zone and man-to-man defenses and switched between the coverages liberally.
“What I would like to see is our kids making faster adjustments to what defense the opponent is in,” Blasco said. “And not become stagnant. My two point guards Josh and Villi (Tupou) did a nice job with that. But it takes all five guys a few possessions to get on the same page.”
The Falcons had 68 shot attempts on Friday, 20 more than Sitka.
“We are definitely getting our shot attempts,” Blasco said. “We need to convert at a higher percentage now.”
The Falcons boys travel to Ketchikan this weekend and will have to contend with Kyle Day from the perimeter and Travis Taylor inside, as well as the Kings team speed. The games will also be on the floor that will host the Region V tournament in three weeks.
“They have four or five guards they can throw at you and that can run the floor and defend full court,” Blasco said. “It is going to require us to be in shape and have quick rotations. We had a week off and then these two games to prepare us for Ketchikan. It is the end of the season and it is a matter of who is playing the best basketball. We definitely what to start peaking at the right time and gain some momentum and continue to learn from all these games leading up to the region tournament.”
Kayhi Lady Kings 58, Falcons girls 54
The Falcon girls had a win wrapped up Saturday night against Ketchikan for three quarters and a bit more. TMHS led 10-8 after one period and trailed by four at the half, 25-21 in front of a very boisterous Ketchikan crowd. The Falcons regained the lead in the third period and were up 43-38 with seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Shale Kibby’s three baskets, plus being fouled as the shots rolled in, were key in keeping the Falcons momentum going.
“That was huge,” TMHS coach Tanya Nizich said. “Offensively and defensively she was pretty key in keeping us in the game.”
The Falcons looked to be on the verge of winning at the sight of the upcoming Region V championships. Instead the Lady Kings used their full court press to go on an 18-4 run and take a 56-47 lead with 1:11 remaining in the game.
“They pressed the entire game,” Nizich said. “All I think it came down to was our becoming mentally tired. They didn’t do anything any different in the first three quarters that they didn’t do in the fourth. Unfortunately we just threw it right into the passing lanes.”
Jonelle Staveland and Michaela Demmert’s offense kept the Falcons ahead in the early stages. Staveland was key in providing a deadly touch from the perimeter and then putting the defensive clamp on Kayhi’s Jayley Taylor.
“They always kept us a point or two ahead at some really key points of the game,” Nizich said. “For Jonelle to play such outstanding defense and still do such a good job on offense was pretty impressive.”
Thunder Mountain’s Sarah Morris hit a basket at the buzzer to cut the final score to 58-54.
Ketchikan coach Kelly Smith commented that the Falcons did a better job moving their feet on defense and getting in the lanes to contest drives, as well as breaking the press.
“Jonelle did a phenomenal job,” Smith told the Ketchikan Daily News. “She hit the jump shot and pulled us outside, then she attacked the basket and finished.”
Kayhi senior Melissa Elliot stated that the Lady Kings need a bigger lead when playing the Falcons because Thunder Mountain never gives up.
“The definitely have improved since they first started playing,” Elliot said. “They are definitely not a team you are going to overlook.”
Jonelle Staveland hit a game-high 24 points, Shale Kibby 11, Michaela Demmert six, Ashley Young and Kinsey Marshall four apiece, Morris and Emily Winters two apiece, and Shayla Reeves one.
Ketchikan’s Melissa Elliott scored 19, Lizzie Carson 17, Shiree Sells and Jayley Taylor nine apiece, Hannah Carson and Mikayla Brown-Harrison six apiece, and Bayley Lindgren three.
“Mentally a team is always going to have a little fatigue,” Nizich said. “You just have to try to be smart in the first quarter and continue it through the fourth. I was just so pleased with our work ethic. Every individual, from people who played maximum minutes to people who just got in for a few minutes, their work ethic was extremely impressive. I couldn’t ask for any more.”
In Friday’s 52-38 loss, Young scored 15, Staveland nine, Reeves eight, and Shale Kibby, Eyerus Tingley, and Cheyenne Ekis two each.
Ketchikan’s Taylor blistered the nets for a game-high 29 points, Sells and Brown-Harrison added 10 points, Melissa Elliott and Bailey Lindgren two apiece.
TMHS hit 12-18 from the free throw line, Kayhi went 23-33. Michaela Demmert, Staveland and Reeves all fouled out of the game as the Falcons committed 30 personal fouls. Kayhi committed 17.
The Falcons girls host the Kayhi Lady Kings this weekend.
“We are eager to get after them again,” Nizich said. “We definitely need to focus on free throw shooting and our turnovers. If we can cut back on half of our turnovers then we are in good shape. I think those two things alone will put us in every game here on out.”