Three times in the regular season the Thunder Mountain Falcons had a fourth-quarter lead against the Kayhi girls basketball team, and three times they failed to hold on.
That changed in the postseason.
Behind a huge fourth-quarter by junior Jonelle Staveland, Thunder Mountain earned its first Southeast conference win ever, beating Kayhi 49-42 in the opening game of the Southeast region tournament in Ketchikan on Tuesday.
"The difference today was that we were calm and confident with the ball. We were cool, calm and collected," Thunder Mountain coach Tanya Nizich said. "We've been known before to have a lead and throw a couple of turnovers and lose it. We did a much better job with the ball today."
Staveland scored 16 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter, and the Falcons avoided the late-game turnover bug that bit them in previous contests as they held on against the Kayhi press. Staveland was held to two points through the first through quarters, partially due to foul trouble.
"I was a little worried," Staveland said. "It was a neck-and-neck game and having three fouls, I was out a lot. I had a lot of fire in me, and I wanted to help the team out any way I could."
Staveland started her fourth-quarter surge by burying a 3-pointer from well beyond the line. On the next possession, here teammates found her in transition for another 3-pointer that put the Falcons up 31-30.
Thunder Mountain opened the fourth quarter on a 16-4 run with Staveland scoring the first 12 points in that run as the Falcons built a 41-34 lead.
Kayhi cut the lead to three points with two minutes remaining, but couldn't get any closer as they were unable to force the Falcons into turnovers.
The Lady Kings entered the tournament with a 14-9 record, holding high hopes of winning a championship and advancing to state. Their route got a lot tougher after Tuesday's loss. Kayhi will need to win games Thursday, Friday and Saturday in order to advance to state.
"Everybody on this basketball team has a job to do, including me. We just didn't do our jobs today," Kayhi coach Kelly Smith said. "If we don't do our jobs on Thursday, regardless of who we play, our season will be over."
Thunder Mountain plays Juneau-Douglas at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The loser of that games plays Kayhi in an elimination game at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
"There's a huge difference between the way Juneau and Ketchikan play. It will be a whole different game," Nizich said. "It's going to be a battle."
Thunder Mountain jumped out a 10-4 first-quarter lead behind the interior play of freshman Ashley Young. Young scored six of her team's first 10 points. She matched Staveland's game-high point total of 18.
"We really wanted to get the ball inside," Nizich said. "Our posts knew that if they didn't have anything, they needed to kick the ball back out to the guards."
Behind the 3-point shooting of Shiree Sells, the Lady Kings worked their way back into the game. Sells hit a 3-pointer in each quarter and finished with 12 points.
A 3-pointer by Sells tied the game 13-13 midway through the second quarter. After Thunder Mountain went back up 15-13, the Lady Kings scored the final five points of the half on a basket by Jayley Taylor and a 3-pointer by Cassidy Patton to take an 18-15 lead.
A three-point play by Taylor to start the third quarter extended the lead to 21-15 and when Sells drained her third 3-pointer of the game to make the score 29-23 Kayhi late in the third, it looked like the Lady Kings were on their way to victory.
Thunder Mountain had other plans, however.
After Staveland shot the Falcons back into the lead, Thunder Mountain's guards successfully brought the ball upcourt against a Kayhi press that had broken them in their earlier meetings.
In their previous meetings, Kayhi looked confident down the stretch, knowing that it could turn the game in their favor at any point. On Tuesday, the Lady Kings looked tentative when the game was close in the fourth quarter.
"As long as we didn't get stuck in rut with bad passes, we handled the press fairly well," Nizich said.
"We started to create things, but you have to score," Smith said. "We hit a 3-pointer, then got a steal, but the next shot went backwards. Thunder Mountain did a nice job of taking care of the ball, and they made their free throws."
Taylor led the Lady Kings with 17 points including going 8 of 13 from the free-throw line. Kayhi made 12 of 12 foul shots. Thunder Mountain was 15 of 33 from the line.