Thunder Mountain High School junior Cailynn Baxter (23) powers a shot against Colony junior Tonya Karpow, freshman Jericho Wuestenberg and junior Alycia Shelley during the Falcons 69-35 semifinal loss to the Knights at the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Friday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School junior Cailynn Baxter (23) powers a shot against Colony junior Tonya Karpow, freshman Jericho Wuestenberg and junior Alycia Shelley during the Falcons 69-35 semifinal loss to the Knights at the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Friday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Fourth-ranked Thunder Mountain girls fall to top-ranked Colony in state semifinals

Coach Lee says Falcons “built for competition, have earned the right to play tomorrow.”

The fourth-ranked Thunder Mountain High School Falcons girls basketball team, built for playing top competition, fell 69-35 in a semifinal to the top-ranked Colony Knights on Friday during the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center.

“We had a really outstanding defensive effort the first 16 minutes,” Falcons coach Andy Lee said. “But they were a little stronger, a little more experienced and the offensive boards wore us down a little bit.”

Both teams struggled from the field in the first half as the Falcons hit just 3-18 (2-5 from past the arc) and the Knights 8-20 (0-6 from deep).

TMHS junior twins Kerra and Cailynn Baxter scored the Falcons’ first six points to keep pace with the Knights, and senior Mikah Carandang hit a tough layup as the Falcons trailed 10-8 after the first quarter.

C. Baxter tied the game a minute into the second quarter and senior Jaya Carandang hit from past the arc for a 13-10 lead.

Colony junior Tonya Karpow scored six points in a row to regain the lead 16-13, but Lockhart hit from deep to tie the game with 1:29 left in the stanza.

Thunder Mountain High School senior Jaya Carandang (3) dribbles under pressure from Colony junior Alycia Shelley (11) during the Falcons 69-35 semifinal loss to the Knights at the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Friday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School senior Jaya Carandang (3) dribbles under pressure from Colony junior Alycia Shelley (11) during the Falcons 69-35 semifinal loss to the Knights at the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Friday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Colony junior Hallie Clark hit a runner and junior Ashlyn Waggoner two free throws for a 20-16 lead at the half.

Colony went on a 10-3 run to open the third quarter. A basket by C. Baxter pulled TMHS to 30-21 and after a deep three by Colony junior Alycia Shelley, K. Baxter hit two free throws to trail 33-24.

The Falcons would get no closer than 10 points and trailed 35-25 with three minutes left in the stanza when the Knights went on a 13-3 run to end the quarter for a 48-28 lead.

“Everyone played their hardest all the way through the bench,” Falcons senior captain Ashlyn Gates said. “And I think that is really important. It is a huge thing our team has that a lot of teams don’t have…our whole bench just loves the sport and plays hard.”

TMHS was outscored 21-7 in the final stanza.

The Baxter twins led TMHS with 11 points apiece in the game. K. Baxter had five rebounds and one block, C. Baxter had three rebounds, one block and two steals. Lockhart scored five points (1 RB), J. Carandang three (1 RB), M. Carandang two (2 RB), junior Addison Wilson two and senior Kaidree Hartman one (1 RB). Gates had three rebounds and one steal.

TMHS hit 10-41 from the field (8/33 from 2pt, 2/8 from 3pt) and 13-19 from the charity stripe. TMHS had 20 rebounds, Colony 40. TMHS had 18 turnovers, Colony 16.

Thunder Mountain High School junior Kerra Baxter (22) drives against Colony sophomore Morgan Ainsworth (12) during the Falcons 69-35 semifinal loss to the Knights at the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Friday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School junior Kerra Baxter (22) drives against Colony sophomore Morgan Ainsworth (12) during the Falcons 69-35 semifinal loss to the Knights at the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Friday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Colony hit 29-56 from the field (24/43 from 2pt, 5-13 from 3pt) and 6-8 from the line.

Clark (4 ST, 2 RB) and Karpow (12 RB) led Colony with 19 points apiece, Shelley had 11 (2 ST), Jericho Wiestemberg 10 (12 RB), Waggoner six, and Ella Hopkins four (9 RB).

“Losing just extra hurts because we haven’t done it a ton this year,” Gates said. “I’m just trying to be encouraging and lift everyone up, and we’re spending time together as a team, being around each other, talking to each other and pretending everything is going to be fine, because it is. It’s a sport and we love each other, and we are going to come out fired up tomorrow.”

The Falcons (23-4) have lost three times this season to the Knights (25-3). Their other loss was to Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.

“Bigger picture,” Falcons coach Lee said. “There are three class teams…Wasilla, Mountain City and Colony…their goal in the valley in middle school is 600 games before high school. Our kids average 40 games in middle school, but we are bridging the gap, we’re getting there, we’re closing the gap on the valley. That is what this is about. Those three teams and us are the class of the state right now and there is a gap between us and them and it is those 600 games and their ability to play at a high level for 32 minutes. We learned a lot today, we’re preparing for tomorrow.”

Thunder Mountain High School coach Andy Lee and the Falcons cheer team get pumped before the girls semifinal at the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Friday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School coach Andy Lee and the Falcons cheer team get pumped before the girls semifinal at the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Friday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

The Falcons face Mountain City Christian Academy (22-4) in the third/fifth place-game at 9 a.m. Saturday. The Lions had won 145 out of their last 148 games before falling to the Wasilla Warriors (21-5) 54-43 in Friday’s second semifinal. All their losses have come from Wasilla which features the number 16 player in the nation, 6’6” Layla Hays, and top junior guard Mylee Anderson. Mountain City has a talented roster of sophomores that follow the lead of senior Morgan Maldonado.

“We want to be the third-best team in the state. And we know Mountain City is going to come out and be lethal tomorrow. So there is no play for fun. We came up here to be the best team in our school’s history, represent our community the best way we can and finish the season on a high note. We earned the right to play hard tomorrow and to play our best tomorrow. And that’s what we are going to do. We want third place.”

Lee said the Falcons cried “pretty quick in there (locker room) after the loss. I loved that they cried. It means they care. We will prepare for tomorrow.”

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