It is no secret that the Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball team has a “big three” that are among the best players in the state and that combination of seniors Samuel Lockhart, James Polasky and Thomas Baxter scored eight, six and four points, respectively, to open a first-quarter lead of 22-14 over the visiting Kodiak Bears on Thursday in the Thunderdome en route to a 71-49 win.
What teams are finding out is the Falcons have a “big 14” of players that have been invaluable in pushing the team’s record to 12-5.
“We have 10 seniors, so there is a lot of maturity there,” TMHS head coach John Blasco said. “They’re just enjoying it together and want to support each other because they go against each other every day in practice. So when other teammates get the opportunity I think they are happy for them.”
In the first quarter seniors Lance Nierra and TJ Guevarra added baskets and shared duties in the press, seniors Kasen Ludeman and Harbor Thomas battled on the boards and senior Joran Gasga and sophomore Pedrin Saceda-Hurt added defensive pressure.
After Kodiak junior Liam Danelski hit the first basket of the game Lockhart answered with a deep shot past the arc, Ludeman blocked a shot that led to a Polasky score inside, Lockhart added another deep shot and Ludeman pulled his first of nine rebounds on the night and Guevarra scored to top off a 10-0 run.
“That is my job on the team…to get boards, play defense and shoot when I am open,” Ludeman said. “I love to rebound and it feels good knowing that the team has my back and I can shoot that shot when open.”
A Kodiak basket by junior Kelly Ticman was answered by another Falcons run that saw Lockhart hit a layup, Baxter pick a Kodiak pocket for a layup, Thomas block a shot that led to a Polasky score and a 16-4 lead that forced the visitors to call timeout and gave the Falcons a momentum they never lost.
“We have a lot of things clicking right now,” Polasky said. “I think we are clicking as a team. Everything is fun and it feels good.”
The Falcons’ feel-good attitude opened the second quarter on a 15-0 run behind two more shots past the arc by Lockhart, Baxter hitting inside and then past the arc, a steal by senior Jace Ribao that led to a Lockhart layup and a Ribao rebound that resulted in a Lockhart jumper and a 37-14 lead.
Polasky added back-to-back buckets inside to answer scores by Kodiak and TMHS led 41-20 at the half.
The Falcons shuffled through the lineup in the second half. Ludeman and Gasga joined Lockhart and Baxter in the three-point club as TMHS took a 61-34 lead after three quarters and seniors Anthony Garcia and Krishna Sanguni, juniors Damian Efergan and Ben Sikes, joined Ribao, Thomas, Gasga, and Saceda-Hurt to bring home the fourth quarter for the win.
“I think it is the brotherhood,” Lockhart said. “There is a very strong brotherhood from the starting five all throughout the bench. We love each other so we play for each other, and we play hard for each other. The team is definitely above ourselves…We pray before every game and say, ‘put the team before yourself.’ And so I think that helps us when we go out there to play together.”
Lockhart led the Falcons with 26 points, Baxter added 14, Polasky 10, Gasga seven, Garcia four, Guevarra and Ludeman three apiece, and Nierra and Sanguni two apiece.
TMHS hit 4-6 at the charity stripe, Kodiak 3-9.
Senior Aron Paguio led Kodiak with 17 points, Ticman 13, junior Bubba Basuel eight, senior Shan Casabar four, junior Mac Abellera, senior Marky Ganal and Danelski two each, and senior MJ Bostwick one.
While Polasky is the Falcons’ main inside threat and Lockhart is comfortable taking any shot past the arc it is Baxter, who has the ability to do both, that is most responsible for leading the team’s defensive energy.
“It is easy to play off him (Lockhart),” Baxter said. “I never think he is going to miss. And I never think James (Polasky) won’t rebound. Like Sam said, it is the brotherhood. We like seeing everyone do good and the whole team likes each other. We’re just having fun with it. That’s the main part, just trying to enjoy it as much as we can.”
The Falcons were glad to get back on their home court after playing nine games on the road from January 10-29 and not getting practice time in the Thunderdome until this week.
“We were really thankful that the weather cleared up and we could get this game today,” Blasco said. “We’re just trying to continue to work with the guys and get them flowing well together as we head into the final month of the season.”
Blasco was surprised by the Falcons’ speed against Kodiak.
“We were up and down a lot faster than I expected tonight,” he said. “It was good to see that. I think they had a lot of energy just getting to play at home tonight for only the third time this year.”
With the loss Kodiak falls to 6-10 (1-3 Northern Lights Conference) on the season.
“Travel days are always hard but that is a very good ball team,” acting Kodiak coach Matt Keplinger said. Head coach John Malloy was unable to make the trip. “Thunder Mountain is a very good basketball team,” “Our kids battled hard all game and that is all you can ask of them. Tomorrow night (Friday/Saturday) we have Juneau-Douglas, we’ll regroup and see what we can do there. We try to play fast. We’re small and size matters…but Thunder Mountain has all the pieces. They are going to be a tough team for anybody to come up against.”
The Falcons will open Southeast Conference play at Ketchikan (9-8 overall, 1-1 SEC) this weekend. The Falcons defeated the Kings in a non-conference game 60-48 at Kayhi’s Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic earlier this season. Kodiak will play at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé (9-8 OA, 1-1 SEC) at 7 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday.
“It is going to be an intense environment against a really tough team,” Blasco said of playing at Kayhi. “They are very long, they are very skilled and very well coached. It is going to be a tough matchup for both games but we are excited to get into conference play.”
Since this group of TMHS seniors were freshman there was an expectation of region championships and state titles, something that can weigh on a player’s mind.
“It is hard not to look at the region tournament,” Lockhart said. “But we are trying to just focus on one game at a time. So we focus on Kayhi this weekend. It has been our best year so far and I think we are the best team we have been our whole four years so it is hard not to look ahead and think we have a good shot.”
Said Baxter, “There are so many pieces to our team. I feel like everyone can play just as much as everyone else. There are the missing pieces that we try and include in the group to make us better as an all-around team. Of course everyone thinks about the region tournament but we are focused on showing up every day and getting better together as a group and just enjoying the present moments.”
Also this weekend the TMHS Falcons girls host the JDHS Crimson Bears girls at 7 p.m. Friday and the JDHS girls host the TMHS girls at 5:15 p.m. Saturday.