The Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball team defeated the Eagle River Wolves 61-57 to win the championship game of South Anchorage High School’s Wolverine Classic Basketball Tournament on Saturday.
“Eagle River does a really good job of making you play at a pace you are never comfortable with,” Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco said. “We were never actually able to pull away. It was nice to hold on and squeeze it out.”
The game started slow for the Falcons who managed just six points in the first quarter on two free throws and a basket by senior Thomas Baxter and two free throws by senior James Polasky, and trailed 10-6.
“I think there was some pressure,” Blasco said. “This was the first championship game, per se, this group has played in, at least in recent memory. So I think there was some added pressure to want to win. But also just a little bit of trip fatigue in terms of four games in four days on the road. I don’t think we were quite fully ready today.”
Five Falcons would find the basket in the second quarter with senior Samuel Lockhart and Baxter hitting past the arc and senior Harbor Thomas and Polasky a bit closer in. But the biggest lift came from deep outside the key as junior Pedrin Saceda-Hurt, who hadn’t played the game before, knocked down three shots past the arc to provide needed energy to enter halftime tied 25-25.
“I was really pleased with Pedrin,” Blasco said. “He didn’t play the game before. He’s a good shooter for us and we called on him in that game. We didn’t really have a good offensive flow going at all and he came in and hit three 3-point shots. It was really fun and a good lift for us in the first half. It was uplifting for sure. The guys were very excited. He’s a great teammate and for him to come in and hit those shots for us it definitely woke everybody up. At halftime we made some adjustments and the rest of the guys were able to get going off of that into the third quarter.”
TMHS outscored Eagle River 21-13 in the third stanza, opening with more of a full-court pressure defense to increase the tempo, pace and energy flow of the game by forcing turnovers.
“Our ball movement was much better on the offensive end,” Blasco said. “Sam (Lockhart) was able to get some open looks off passes by Thomas (Baxter)…just different ways to get more people open, it was more fluid in the second half.”
Lockhart connected on two shots past the arc, senior Kasen Ludeman a shot outside the arc and another in close, Polasky two buckets and Baxter another, and senior TJ Guevarra scored a layup and went 2-4 at the charity stripe as the Falcons held a 46-38 lead starting the final stanza.
Eagle River senior Drew Legenza tried to pull the Wolves into the game with five baskets in the fourth quarter and junior teammate Dawson Myers added two more but the Falcons Polasky connected on three crucial baskets, sophomore Joren Gasga two more and senior Lance Nierra another and Lockhart a pair of free throws to hold off the rally.
Polasky led the Falcons with 14 points, Lockhart added 11, Baxter and Saceda-Hurt nine apiece, Gasga and Ludeman five apiece, Guevarra four, Nierra and Thomas two apiece. Seniors Jace Ribao, Anthony Garcia and Krishna Sanguni and junior Damian Efergan also were on the bench.
TMHS went 8-10 at the charity stripe, ERHS 9-12.
Senior Jack Wallace led the Wolves with 14 points, Legenza 12, Myers and sophomore New Tauaefa 11 apiece, senior Jordan Griffin four, junior Jameson Skinner three and junior Austin Atkinson two.
TMHS’ Polasky was named the Player of the Game and Lockhart was chosen as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Both joined Baxter on the All-Tournament Team.
“I am very happy with our maturity down the stretch,” Blasco said of winning four close games in four days. “We still made mistakes, we still had turnovers in the fourth quarter we would definitely like back but we found a way to close out the games. It is an important step in the process of development over the season.”
The Falcons have 10 seniors on their roster and Blasco said he has been savoring every minute of each practice and game, cherishing each road trip in what could be one of TMHS’ best teams.
“Several of these guys have been on the varsity team since freshman year,” he said. “Definitely enjoying this ride right now with them. The work they are putting in and the commitment they are making to each other is definitely something as a coach you appreciate seeing and makes you more excited to commit the time because they are doing it for each other as well.”
The Falcons boast a 10-3 record and will face Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Tuesday at the George Houston Gymnasium at JDHS for their first Southeast Conference game of the season.
TMHS season game scores to date include: TM 61 ERHS 57, TM 60 South 55, TM 68 Lathrop 55, TM 70 Chugiak 54, TM 61 Sitka 49, TM 64 Sitka 47, TM 60 Ketchikan 48, West Anchorage 65 TM 52, TM 62 Monroe 61, Hesperia 52 TM 35, Roosevelt 102 TM 60, TM 67 Houston 43, TM 54 Mountain City Christian Academy 36 (formally Anchorage Christian School).
The JDHS Crimson Bears are 8-7 on the season, splitting this weekend’s homecoming series against visiting Grace Christian, losing 62-61 Friday and winning 40-33 Saturday.
JDHS season scores include: West Valley 79 JD 34, JD 77 Dimond 73, JD 67 Nome-Beltz 62, JD 53 Monroe 50, JD 77 Colony 72, Lathrop 68 JD 65, Albuquerque 80 JD 73, JD 64 Eagle River 57, Auburn Mountainview 63 JD 32, JD 61 Mount Vernon 43, Durango 71 JD 40, Madison 55 JD 52, JD 67 Yuma Catholic 58.
“There is always stuff you have to keep improving on,” Blasco said. “Definitely have to take care of the ball better, value the possessions more, make sure the pace of the game is the one we want to play and not the opponents. And you always have to keep making defensive improvements and changes to your next opponent, and JDHS is going to provide some definite challenges with Alwen (Carrillo, sr.) and Sean (Oliver, sr.) and the weapons they bring to their team.”