ANCHORAGE - Just a couple inches separated the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team and overtime Saturday in the Class 4A state title game.
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The Crimson Bears' furious fourth-quarter rally fell just short as Wasilla High School captured its first championship in 25 years with a 51-48 win at Sullivan Arena.
JDHS senior Talisa Rhea's 3-point shot missed as the final buzzer sounded. The Crimson Bears staged an incredible comeback after trailing 15 points with 6:30 left in regulation.
"I got a good look," said Rhea, who finished with a team-high 26 points and nine rebounds. "It was a good play. We executed it well. It just didn't go our way."
Rhea's shot almost capped one of the season's most amazing rallies.
Wasilla thoroughly controlled the first three quarters and appeared ready to run away with the title.
Juneau, however, mounted one final, heroic charge.
Down 15 points with 6:30 to go, Kayla Harrison knocked a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 42-30. It also gave Juneau hope.
"At 12 ... I was like that's four 3s, that's nothing for us," JDHS coach Lesslie Knight said. "They got it to nine, then they got on a little flow and thankfully Wasilla didn't make all their free throws. ... For every free throw they missed we scored one (field goal) and inched back in. We just dug ourselves too deep a hole."
Juneau opted to foul Wasilla as the Warriors got increasingly cold from the free throw line.
The Warriors missed three straight from the line and Harrison hit a second 3 to make it 42-33 with 4:30 left. She hit a third from beyond the arc with 2:03 left to make the score 45-36.
"It was just a string of good events that happened," Harrison said.
Wasilla 51, Juneau-Douglas 48
JDHS - 4 10 10 24 - 48
WHS - 13 14 10 14 - 51
JDHS (48) - Johnson 0-1 0-0 0; Rhea 10-23 5-8 26; Tingley 0-1 0-0 0; B. Fenumiai 0-0 0-0 0; Harrison 3-7 2-4 11; Lietz 1-5 1-2 3; Mulder 1-2 0-1 2; Buck 1-1 0-0 2; N. Fenumiai 1-3 2-2 4; Doerflinger 0-1 0-0 0.
Wasilla (51) - Wesser 4-10 3-8 11; Fulton 1-4 2-4 4; Putnam 3-9 9-18 15; Brown 1-5 2-2 5; Johnson 3-14 5-7 11; Cronk 1-1 0-0 3; Husmann 0-0 0-0 0; Podbielski 0-0 0-0 0; Carter 1-5 0-0 2.
3-point shots - JDHS 4-13 (Harrison 3, Rhea 1), Wasilla 2-8 (Brown, Cronk).
Rebounds - JDHS 36 (Rhea 9), Wasilla 37 (Johnson 12).
Assists - JDHS 7 (Rhea 4), Wasilla 5 (Fulton 3).
Fouled out - JDHS 2 (N. Fenumiai, Doerflinger), Wasilla none.
Free throws - JDHS 10-17, Wasilla 21-39.
Fouls - JDHS 36, Wasilla 18.
After Wasilla's Jenna Johnson made a free throw, Rhea set Juneau's bench and fans on fire with the team's fourth 3-pointer of the quarter to shave the lead to seven.
Nicole Fenumiai and Rhea made two free throws each while Hillarie Putnam hit 2 of 4 free throws to make the score 48-43 with less than two minutes left. JDHS senior Veronica Lietz then drained a long jumper and Rhea scored inside with one minute left to trim Wasilla's lead to 48-47.
The Warriors, however, responded like champions.
"Here they come," Putnam said of Juneau's comeback. "They're a good team, they're phenomenal team. They took away our state championship our freshmen year (in 2004)."
After Putnam hit 1 of 2 free throws with 29 seconds left to put Wasilla up 49-47, Rhea drew a foul and a chance to tie the game with two free throws with 11 seconds left on the clock.
Rhea made the first, but missed the second, as her teammates fouled Johnson with 7.3 seconds remaining in regulation.
The sophomore calmly drained both shots to give Wasilla a three-point cushion.
"I thought if we made these, we have it," Johnson said. "We have a chance."
Juneau called timeout with 4.5 seconds left and executed the play to perfection. Brittany Fenumiai passed to Harrison, who immediately drew three defenders. The sophomore then dished to a wide-open Rhea at the top of the key, but the two-time state player of the year's shot fell just short.
"I'm really proud of them," a tearful Knight said. "They dug back the whole game, the fourth quarter in particular. The saddest thing is not that we lost the game but our time has come to an end."
The fact Juneau-Douglas battled back in the fourth quarter proved amazing after Wasilla looked ready to run away with the title.
The Warriors immediately seized control with their intense, physical defense.
Putnam stuck to Rhea throughout the first half as Wasilla stymied Juneau's offense.
Wasilla ended the first quarter on a 10-1 run to take a 13-4 lead. The Warriors kept the pressure on in the second quarter to lead 27-14.
JDHS made just 4 of 10 free throws in the first half and just 25 percent of their shots. Wasilla also forced the Bears into 20 turnovers in the game.
"It disrupted us big time," Knight said of Wasilla's defense. "They play such awesome pressure that it's hard to run your offense."
Wasilla led by as much as 17 in the third quarter as it took a 37-24 lead before Juneau's valiant comeback.
The game marked the close of the high school basketball careers of Andrea Doerflinger, Hannah Buck, Lietz and Rhea. While the result wasn't what the team hoped for, the Crimson Bears can leave Anchorage knowing they gave everything they had in the final.
"It's a great place to play," Rhea said of Juneau. "High school sports is what they support. I'm proud to be from there."