Falcons begin Region V tourney play tonight

Crimson Bears open on Wednesday

For 14 of the 20 high school basketball teams in the Southeast Region V 3/4A tournament in Ketchikan, this will be the final games of their season. Just six will move on to the state venue in Anchorage.


The Falcons’ boys play Ketchikan at 7 p.m. tonight and the Falcons’ girls play the Lady Kings at 8:45 p.m. The Crimson Bears will play the winners of those respective games with the girls hooping at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and the boys following at 8:15 p.m. A complete schedule is on page B2.

Anything can happen at tournament time. For that very reason the region tournament went back to a double elimination format, much like the set up used by the smaller 2A schools. Not only does the two-loss requirement make for more fan enjoyment, more school participation and more tired referees but it also assures that the best team represents the conference at the next level. In the past, an upset of the number one seed meant that the team with the best record over three months suddenly found itself making reservations for spring break instead of state fast breaks.

For the boys, Juneau-Douglas has to be the favorite, as their record in conference and around the state is hefty.

They also have the majority of the beef inside with Evan Gross, Gary Speck and Taylor Swofford, plus two seasoned state-tournament guards in Lance Ibesate and Tony Yadao. They also possess a potent core of rebounding, slashing and shooting players in Alec Calloway, Austin Shoemaker, Phillip Fenumiai and Darien Stanger. Then they have Jesse Miller, Jeffrey Pusich and Ryan Kelly. They have bodies and are the deepest team in the tournament.

If the Crimson Bears spread the floor and let Ibesate and Yadao create, and the rest of the squad is patient and lets the offense come to them, good things will happen. When the Crimson Bears press and run they are dangerous, as long as they do it under control. Sometimes speed can be a train wreck if there is no conductor on board.

Thunder Mountain has speed and two of the most athletic scoring players in the league in Keith Ainsworth and Matt Seymour.

Plus the Falcons get a lot of football bravado from Camden Thomas, Villi and Josh Tupou, and Sam and Ben Jahn. They get nice bench minutes from Ty Grussendorf and Coltin Lanz and coach John Blasco is comfortable putting any of his kids on the court.

That confidence shows in how they play. They are fearless. They also play a little out of control at times, but once again, speed is contagious.

Ketchikan is at home. They are in their own beds and their own school and their own town. They will be comfortable there and the fan base in the First City is usually anti-anything Juneau.

The Kings boast the best shooting guard in the region in Kyle Day who averages over 25 points per game. They also have a solid big man in Travis Taylor and lots of speed. They are possibly the most patient team in the tournament and, did I mention, they are playing at home.

JDHS beat the Kings 69-55 and 75-60 in December at Kayhi, then beat them in Juneau 65-38 and 60-43. JDHS also beat TM 52-35 and 50-44 last weekend in both schools senior nights but if the Falcons had hit their free throws they would have won on Saturday. The Falcons boys lost to the Kings at Ketchikan on Feb. 17-18 by the scores of 54-53 and 52-47; they split here losing 51-46 and winning 59-53.

The Crimson Bears lone conference loss, 54-47, was at Ketchikan in Gabi Fenumiai’s first game back from injury. The Crimson Bears played soft on defense that night, relying on Fenumiai to pick up the slack and the conditioning and team chemistry wasn’t there. The following night both Fenumiai and Taylor were pivotal to their teams in the JDHS 77-72 triple overtime win.

“We definitely need to stay focused,” JDHS coach Dee Boster said. “We need to execute our plays and make sure we are very patient on offense. Additionally we need to insure that we have really good help defense because we will need to keep Jayley (Kayhi’s Jayley Taylor) and Jonelle (TMHS’s Jonelle Staveland) from driving and dishing off. They have been the main scorers against us. They create their scoring opportunities. They get a lot of their points from the free-throw line when we foul them. We are not looking past either team.”

JDHS won the series at Juneau 37-34 and 44-33. Meaning a few free throws or turnovers either way could prove to be the difference between these two teams. If Marissa Brakes, Sierra Tagaban, Kaitlin Fagerstrom, Kymberlee Kelly and TJae Garcia can be careful with the ball good things will happen. Especially with Ari Gross back on track, Nicole George and Kayla Balovich inside and Fenumiai simply unstoppable. Plus, they have, arguably the best player in southeast in Esra Siddeek.

The JDHS girls beat TMHS 55-43 and 66-30 last weekend.

The Thunder Mountain girls have dropped all four contests against JDHS and Kayhi but, in truth, they have not put one complete game together. They are capable of playing either team close for three quarters.

“After playing Ketchikan five times now we know they are a tough team and they work the ball around well,” TMHS coach Tanya Nizich said. “We need to focus on getting it inside more and attacking the basket.”

The Falcons lost to KHS at the Thunderdome 54-37 and 57-47 and at the region tourney site 52-38, after surrendering a fourth quarter lead, and 58-54 the following night.

Turnovers have been the TMHS downfall to date. They are slowly cutting back in that respect but the atmosphere of a region tournament can be unnerving. Coach Tanya Nizich will have to keep a tight rein on the court.

The Falcons are getting a lot of aggression out of Shale Kibby, Kinsey Marshall, Jonelle Staveland and Ashley Young.

“Defensively we need to watch our fouls,” Nizich said. “Fouls can put us into some trouble right off the bat. Ketchikan pulls it out and moves it around a little bit longer each possession, making the defense work for longer periods of time. Juneau kind of runs and guns, they are looking for a quick shot. Two teams with very different styles.”

Shayla Reeves, Emily Winters, Eyerus Tingley, Sarah Morris and Michaela Demmert are just a notch back but are capable of pushing the Falcons over the hump.

TMHS has Kayhi’s number and it is just a question of whether or not they are patient enough and careful enough on the offensive end tonight. If the Falcons get a win tonight, it could steamroll into a northern trip to state.

On the 3A brackets Sitka looks to take home two region titles, and possibly two second seeds to state with Mt. Edgecumbe following. The Sitka girls are 21-3 overall with losses to 4A powers Dimond and Juneau-Douglas and top 3A ranked Barrow. The losses were all on the road. The Mt. Edgecumbe girls have, talent wise, the second best team but play erratically. The Craig Lady Panthers cold possibly pull an upset over the Lady Braves in the second round but would probably win again in the state-play-in game on Saturday. Haines may win a game or two and possibly Metlakatla. Petersburg’s Lady Vikings have managed just one win this season.

For 3A boys, Sitka again is the class, although they have dropped one conference game to Mt. Edgecumbe. The Wolves do have the most talent but, as past years have shown, they tend to get emotional to the officiating. Haines and Mt. Edgecumbe are both solid but Archie Young runs a tight Braves ship and they should be packing their bags for up north. The traditionally strong Petersburg Vikings and Wrangell Wolves are in a down season with only two wins among them, both by the Norwegians.

Tournament games will be streamed live at Kayhibasketball.com


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