Falcons claim first Region V basketball title

Thunder Mountain tops Juneau-Douglas 56-52
Thunder Mountains Sam Jahn makes a jumpshot Friday in the 4 A championship, while being guarde by Juneau's Gary Speck, left. Jackson Lehnhart, watches in the foreground.

With his team leading 55-52 and just seconds remaining, Thunder Mountain High School junior Matt Seymour calmly stepped to the free throw line to ice the Region V 4A Boys Championship and give the Falcons' their first basketball title in the school's short history.


It would have to wait one free throw.

"Yeah, I missed that first one," Seymour said. "But man, the second one felt so good. It was a great feeling when that buzzer went off, there is nothing else like it. I was in the championship last year and we lost it, that was awful. This is great."

The second one gave Seymour a game-high 17 points. Just 25 seconds earlier he scored on a twisting layup.

And with four seconds remaining Seymour stole the eight-time defending Southeast champ Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears' inbound pass and time expired and fans stormed Mt. Egecumbe's B J. McGillis Memorial Gymnasium floor.

"I want to give a shout out to Michael," Seymour said in an interview later. "Our coach read us an email from Michael, a home school kid who is a big fan of ours. We want to give a big shout out to Michael and all our fans."

Senior Sam Jahn, the team's workhorse, waited four years to defeat cross town rival JDHS in the Region V championship, to follow shots and post up, to defend the post and to hear the buzzer that signals his Falcons were going to the state tournament for the first time.

"I was so excited for our team," Jahn said. "We have been working so hard for four years now and it is just such a great feeling to finally accomplish what we have been working so hard for."

Jahn has had his arms full with Crimson Bears big men Gary Speck, Jeffrey Pusich and Bruce Jones all season.

"I was just thinking I have to go after every ball as hard as I could," Jahn said. "I had to fight for every rebound. If I got the ball inside I had to be strong with it or they would just take it away. I tried to be as strong as possible. The guys on JD are pretty tough."

Senior brothers Vili and Josh Tupou, the team leaders in composure and ball control, have battled their childhood friends for the past four years and when the buzzer sounded they hugged not only their Falcons' teammates but their brethren in the Crimson Bears' red and black as well.

"It was a good feeling to know that we beat a really good team," Vili Tupou said. "I grew up with almost all those guys, I am going to miss them a lot too. Our senior class has been working hard for this."

The Falcons were looking at a 16-10 first quarter deficit and trailed 29-21 at the half as Crimson Bears' senior Phillip Fenumiai nailed a basket at the break.

The second half was back-and-forth action.

V. Tupou hit five points in a row in the third period to cut the lead to three, 33-30 at the 3:15 mark.

"Those Tupou boys played controlled and intelligent," JDHS coach Robert Casperson said. "We used to be able to rely on them to force passes and shots... those two boys are the difference makers. To see their growth over four years and their maturity coming through proved to be very tough for us to deal with."

JDHS' Adam Empson came out of a time out to drop a soft jumper in the lane and the Crimson Bears put on a full court press for the first time in the evening.

V. Tupou found Ty Grussendorf in the corner for the first of his three triples to make it a 35-33.

Bruce Jones hit inside for the Crimson and Grussendorf hits his second three to cut it back to two. Another hoop by Jones and free throw by Speck pushed the lead to five but Seymour buried a three to cut it to 41-39 at the buzzer.

At 7:13 of the fourth quarter, clinging to a 41-40 lead, the hopes of another Crimson Bears' Region V title lay writhing on the court as JDHS senior Phillip Fenumiai landed on a defenders foot after a jump shot.

Suffering a severely dislocated ankle, Fenumiai refused to leave gym after medical personnel and coaches carried him back to the bench. Instead he gave what little he had left in vocal support.

On the next possession Seymour gave the Falcons their first lead since the first quarter on an up and under for a basket and a free throw for a 43-41 lead.

JDHS' Jeffrey Pusich answered by drawing S. Jahn's fourth foul and tied the game with two at the charity stripe. Senior teammate Keith Ainsworth rebounded a miss and fed  Speck for a 45-43 Crimson Bears' advantage with 4:58 remaining.

The back-and-forth play continued as Ben Jahn, who game-to-game does all the quite dirty work on the boards, gave the Falcons a tie. JDHS' Gary Speck answered to regain the lead with a free throw.

J. Tupou hit V. Tupou for a 47-46 lead with 3:36 remaining and Ty Grussendorf hit his third shot from beyond the arch for a 50-46 advantage. V. Tupou added an old-fashioned three point play for a seven point led.

Ainsworth answered with a JDHS triple, and Seymour answered right back for a 55-49 Falcons lead.

JDHS' Jeffrey Pusich scored and fouled S. Jahn out of the game with nine seconds remaining. Teammate Ainsworth would rebound a missed free throw and get fouled, making one, missing the second and fouling Seymour on the rebound.

"I could not believe it, it was pretty surreal," TMHS coach John Blasco said of hearing the final buzzer. "I am extremely proud of these guys. They have been fighting for me for four years, putting in all the hard work truly paid off for them, I couldn't be more proud. It was a great win. It was a hard fought game. We have had quite a few comeback wins this year. The guys have a lot of confidence in each other and I have a lot of confidence in them. We just kept battling and we knew our shots would fall. We just kept attacking and finally we hit some big shots. Everybody contributed. That is the team aspect of us. Guys stepped up."

S. Jahn added 12 points for the Falcons, V. Tupou 10, Grussendorf nine, J. Tupou and B. Jahn four each. TMHS hit 8-15 at the charity stripe, JDHS went 9-15.

Pusich led the Crimson Bears with 15, Speck had 11, Fenumiai eight, Aquino Brinson and Jones six apiece, Ainsworth four and Empson two.

"We were focused and came out playing hard," Casperson said. "I know are guys are disappointed and I am disappointed for them, but I have told them all year long that all I can ask is they do their best. By far I got their best effort tonight. They played smart and played together. I am sure they would have liked a different outcome but it just wasn't in the cards for us tonight. I was proud of how they played. I hate to lose but they played as hard as they could and left everything out there."

The Falcons will play tonight at 8 p.m. against the Mt. Edgecumbe Braves in the 3A/4A crossover championship for trophy-less southeast bragging rights. The Braves defeated top ranked Sitka 55-45 for the Region 3A title and trip to state.

"We will approach it to win," Blasco said. "We want to go out and compete to win every game."


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