“They are a good young team,” Juneau-Douglas High School senior guard Lance Ibesate said after his Crimson Bears had escaped a second Region V tournament game against Thunder Mountain on Friday night in Ketchikan. “They are not the ‘other’ team in Juneau anymore. There’s that little bit of rivalry but it’s all fun and games. Both of us are hard working teams and they bring that out in us. We want to come with the same intensity when we play up north.”
Friday’s 4A Region V 71-53 JDHS Championship game win on Friday, the Crimson Bears’ seventh title in a row, was all about intensity.
JDHS dropped the ball inside to Evan Gross in the first period to take advantage of his height. While Gross gave JDHS the first point of the game it was the Falcons Sam and Ben Jahn who played a bit more aggressive in the key.
“The exciting part about Region V basketball is about how tough a team can be for four straight days,” TMHS coach John Blasco said. “Our guys have matured mentally and physically over the season and then to watch them play three or four strong games in a row is really a complement to them.”
Sam tipped in the Falcons first basket and lead and Ben attacked the rim for two more. Sam added another basket on a turn around jumper and Matt Seymour followed that with a drive and foul for an old fashioned three-point play.
The Crimson Bears closed out the quarter with Phillip Fenumiai driving and Ryan Kelly knocking down a jumper from beyond the arch to pull within four at 10-6.
On paper the JDHS team looked to have the advantage. The senior laden Crimson Bears were experienced in title games and the underclassmen-led Falcons were not. The Crimson Bears had two days of rest after Thunder Mountain took them to overtime in the tournament’s first game on Wednesday night. The Falcons had a chance to win the game but Keith Ainsworth’s shot, under a time constraint and heavy JDHS pressure, went in and out of the rim. The Falcons lost that game 57-48 while only hitting two free throws in the extra period.
The Falcons then had to dispatch of the home-courted Ketchikan Kings, for the second time in the tournament (they opened with a 46-38 win over Kayhi), and their third game in three days, and they dominated the Kings 48-39.
“We just wanted to go out strong and take advantage of every offensive possession and not waste any possessions with the ball,” Ibesate said. “We wanted to pressure their guards every second. We knew they would be tired. This feels good.”
While Ibesate went scoreless in the first period he scored nine of his game-high 19 points in the second period and was a handful both offensively and defensively for the Falcons’ guards.
Even more incredible was the play of Alec Calloway who had a “Michael Jordan” type game according to coach Casperson.
“He didn’t have Michael’s 36 points but he had the flu,” Casperson said, referring to a game in which former NBA star Jordan was ill and did well. “The medical staff at the gym checked him out and kept an eye on him in the game. I was so impressed with his toughness. He just wants to play; he loves his teammates and wants to be in the game. When his teammates saw how hard he played that got them going too.”
Calloway started the second period with a huge rebound, scored on the other end of the court, got another rebound and scored again. Then he subbed out and promptly headed to a waste basket near the bench to throw up. It was a pattern he continued through the game, but an effort that gave the Crimson Bears a 21-10 scoring advantage in the second period and a 27-20 halftime lead.
“Alec knows he is a big part of this team,” Senior Tony Yadao said. “He showed us his heart tonight and we are really proud of him.”
Yadao also had heart, scoring 14 points in the game, including 10 in the fourth quarter, and getting six steals.
The Falcons were never out of the game. Even with tired legs they cut into a 13-point Crimson Bears lead with back-to-back triples from Josh Tupou and Ty Grussendorf.
After a Yadao jumper made it 37-28 JDHS, Sam Jahn again rolled out a left handed hook, which nestled into the net as the ref’s whistle blew. Jahn made the free-throw to draw TMHS within six.
Just when the Falcons seemed to have momentum Ibesate and Yadao blistered the length of the court and dropped three straight passes to Gary Speck who tickled the twine. Matt Seymour stopped the barrage briefly by knocking down three straight free throws and again pulling the Falcons to within 10 points at 46-34 ending the third period.
Keith Ainsworth and Seymour took the Falcons under their wings in the final period but the fresh legs of Ibesate and Yadao stretched the court and the lead for the Crimson Bears. Yadao would nail 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.
“It was a good crowd,” JDHS coach Robert Casperson said. “Our cheerleaders did a good job, Thunder Mountain’s cheerleaders did a good job. It was everything you want from a regional game in that kind of atmosphere. It was fun. Coach Blasco did a great job with his kids this year. They got out there and they competed. I think the fatigue was a factor tonight.”
Ibesate led the Crimson Bears with 19 points, Yadao added 14, Calloway 11, Gross and Speck six apiece, Austin Shoemaker five, Kelly and Fenumiai four apiece, and Jesse Miller two.
Seymour led the Falcons with 14 points, S. Jahn added 12, B. Jahn seven, Ainsworth six, Vili Tupou four, Mike Uddipa, Ty Grussendorf and Josh Tupou three each, and Trent Uddipa one.
JDHS went 12-20 at the charity stripe, TMHS hit17-26.
“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Tony Yadao said. “We feel really good about what we accomplished. We worked hard all year to get to this point right now. We have really good chemistry on the team and play together well. Defense has been our main focus in practice. If our defense is on then our offense will just follow. Did you see how hard Austin (Shoemaker) and Phil (Fenumiai) played? That is what gets us going.”
The win gave the Crimson Bears a perfect mark in Southeast conference play, although they did drop a game to 3A Mt. Edgecumbe last month.
The best case scenario should have been that the Falcons didn’t tire in the final quarter and took the championship as they are deserving of representing Southeast at the state championships. The Crimson Bears are also very deserving, as was evident in their schedule and wins across the state.
JDHS added to their southeast win total with a 42-36 victory over Sitka in the 3A/4A Crossover Championship on Saturday night.
The Crimson Bears led 23-22 at the half and 36-32 after three quarters in a game that, historically, is for bragging rights in the panhandle.
The Alaska School Activities Association will be announcing brackets, match-ups and game times for all classifications in their March Madness Alaska Selection Show today at 6 p.m. At that time the WPI (winning percentage index) will reveal two at-large teams into each the 4A Boys and Girls State Tournament.
Automatic state berths go to the Southeast Conference winner, the Mid Alaska winner, the Cook Inlet winner and runner up and the Northern Lights winner and runner up. Two additional teams from among the schools in the conferences will be added to the tournament and ranked with the qualifiers using the WPI system.
The WPI measures strength of schedule and how a team does against that schedule. It does not measure margin of victory or game location, only whether a team wins or loses. It is similar to the NCAA’s RPI (ratings percentage index) used in the NCAA tournament selection and seeding. The basic WPI formula is 50% team winning percentage and 50% opponents’ winning percentage. Only games against other Alaskan schools are counted.
The Thunder Mountain Falcons strength of schedule was not as strong as needed to secure one of the two At-Large invitations to the state championships. They, as well as Ketchikan, needed to win the Region V tournament to go to state or at least get a win against Juneau-Douglas.
As of Feb. 29, before the various region tournaments state-wide began, the WPI rankings and won/loss records against Alaska teams were Wasilla 15-0, Dimond 20-0, Service 18-3, Juneau 16-3, Bartlett 13-3, Kenai 5-4, Colony 11-8, Palmer 11-7, West Anch. 8-9, Kodiak 7-10, Soldotna 7-7, Lathrop 7-7, Ketchikan 7-12, Houston 6-4, Eagle River 6-12, Homer 3-6, East Anch. 4-13, Chugiak 4-16, West Valley 3-11, South Anch. 2-14, Thunder Mountain 2-11, North Pole 2-9, and Skyview 1-9.
While the Falcons may have moved up a notch by beating Ketchikan, Juneau-Douglas’ wins against TMHS in the tourney may have actually moved them down in the rankings. Therefore, the Crimson Bears may get a tough draw in the first round as seeding for the state tournament is 1-8 and JDHS’ WPI may have slipped to fifth, lower than one of the At-Large selections to be announced today.