A mask hid Mary Neal Garcia’s mouth as the final buzzer sounded, but the triumphant smile on her face was still obvious as she cradled a basketball and walked toward her coach.
Garcia, a Thunder Mountain High School senior, and her teammates on Tuesday night bested Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé 46-41 to advance to the Region V Tournament championship game. It took six quarters of hard-nosed basketball to decide which Juneau girls basketball team would take on Ketchikan High School in Ketchikan.
“All those cliches — epic, classic — it was a big win for our program, just for the kids in general,” said TMHS coach Andy Lee in a phone interview.
Lee said TMHS beat a “very, very good,” “proud” and “well-coached” JDHS team to earn the program’s first Region V Tournament win in six years.
“I thought that the girls played really hard,” said JDHS girls basketball coach Steve Potter. “It just didn’t work out. We had stretches all year where we struggled to score, and that kind of came back to bite us.”
Potter said over the course of the double-overtime game, TMHS’ abundance of upperclassman proved to be an advantage. Eight seniors are listed on the Thunder Mountain roster compared to three for Juneau-Douglas.
“The number of seniors they had showed,” Potter said.
While the game wound up being nail-biter, it began with JDHS jumping to a 7-0 lead. Lee credited senior leadership with enabling the TMHS girls to claw their way back and ultimately prevail.
“We never flinched,” Lee said. ”I just thought the girls did a really good job of being poised and being focused.”
Garcia, and her twin sister, Mary Khaye Garcia, were two especially important seniors to TMHS’ winning effort. The Garcias played pesky defense and pushed the pace on offense.
“You’re never out of the game if you have the twins,” Lee said. They just don’t give up. If heart is height, then they’re 7 feet tall.”
However, the scoring load was fairly evenly distributed for the Lady Falcons with juniors Riley Traxler, Sydney Strong and senior Mariah Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale contributing double-digit or near-double-digit scoring totals. Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale contributed a crucial steal and late basket to seal the win, too.
JDHS benefited from standout performances from seniors Kiana Potter, who recorded a double-double, and Jenae Pusich as well as sophomore Skylar Tuckwood, junior Trinity Jackson and sophomore Ashley Laudert.
Coach Steve Potter said Laudert, who is listed at 6 foot 1 and is a defensive deterrent in the paint, played her best game of the season.
He said throughout the totality of an odd, pandemic-shaped season, every member of the team was a contributor in one way or another.
“I just think everybody on our team contributed,” Steve Potter said. “There was nobody who was just a space holder. Everybody helped us get better in practice or helped us on the court.”
Next up for Thunder Mountain will be a Saturday afternoon game against Kayhi in Ketchikan.
Lee said he and his team are hopeful that the victory against JDHS won’t be the TMHS girls team’s last memorable win.
“We want it to be one more step in a great season,” Lee said.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt
How to Watch
What: Thunder Mountain High School girls vs. Ketchikan High School girls
When: 2:45 p.m. Saturday
Where: The game will be streamed online through the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District website at kgbsd.org/live.