Thunder Mountain senior Jaya Carandang defends Dimond senior Maile Wilcox (5) during the Falcons 58-47 win over the Lynx in the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Wednesday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain senior Jaya Carandang defends Dimond senior Maile Wilcox (5) during the Falcons 58-47 win over the Lynx in the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Wednesday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain girls open state tournament with 58-47 win over Dimond

Falcons earn season rematch against top-ranked Colony in Friday semifinals

The fourth-ranked Thunder Mountain High School Falcons girls basketball team toppled fifth-ranked Dimond Lynx 58-47 in their opening game of the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Basketball State Championships on Wednesday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center.

“It was super fun,” TMHS junior Kerra Baxter said. “Last year we lost our first game in the state tournament by five after being up by 15 and I think that was just our first time being there. We didn’t know how to get used to the crowd, the whole crowd was against us then except for a small section of TM fans, but I think this year it was all mental so we did better on that.”

The Falcons fell behind early under the Lynx press 6-0 until sophomore Cambry Lockhart hit a shot past the arc.

After Dimond answered with a deep three by senior Natalia Rodriguez for 9-3, Falcons junior Cailynn Baxter stole a ball and scored and twin sister Kerra Baxter found a lane to pull within 9-7.

Rodriguez gave Dimond an 11-7 advantage that was answered by a deep shot by TMHS senior Mikah Carandang to pull within 11-10, but Dimond pushed out to an 18-13 lead to end the stanza.

Thunder Mountain sophomore Cambry Lockhart (1) and senior Kara Strong battle for a loose ball with Dimond junior Evan Hamey during the Falcons 58-47 win over the Lynx in the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Wednesday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain sophomore Cambry Lockhart (1) and senior Kara Strong battle for a loose ball with Dimond junior Evan Hamey during the Falcons 58-47 win over the Lynx in the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Wednesday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

TMHS opened the second quarter with a half-court press to slow Dimond into just one free throw.

Lockhart buried two shots past the arc to tie the game at 19-19.

“My tactic is just to always be aggressive,” Lockhart said. “I wasn’t super nervous because I trust my team. We were just super excited to get back and play. We watched a lot of films and we were just ready to take down whatever they brought to us. We get a lot of different things from different teams trying to stop us, but we are just ready for all the adversity and just going through it together.”

The Falcons K. Baxter decided to take the game into her hands and had back-to-back scoring drives, the second coming on an assist by Lockhart.

“I really did,” Baxter said. “I don’t know what happened but I was like ‘drive, drive, drive.’ I just drew fouls and the points just kept going up, and it was really fun.”

Dimond senior Maile Wilcox hit a shot to end the second quarter, but TMHS led 23-21 at the break.

Thunder Mountain would never relinquish the lead in the second half despite the increased pressure Dimond brought.

Thunder Mountain junior Kerra Baxter (22) is fouled by Dimond senior Maile Wilcox (5) during the Falcons 58-47 win over the Lynx in the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Wednesday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain junior Kerra Baxter (22) is fouled by Dimond senior Maile Wilcox (5) during the Falcons 58-47 win over the Lynx in the 2024 ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A Girls Basketball State Championships on Wednesday at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center. (Klas Stolpe / For the Juneau Empire)

TMHS senior Jaya Carandang opened the third quarter with a shot past the arch and then assisted on a score by C. Baxter for a 28-21 lead. Senior Ashlyn Gates answered a pair of Dimond free throws with a score and the two sides would trade small runs with K. Baxter scoring six points in a row and C. Baxter another for a 38-35 lead with just one stanza remaining to play.

“I guess we just stayed locked in,” TMHS senior Jaya Carandang said. “We knew we could really beat this team and we really pulled through. Calming down too was really the big part because if we would have let the pressure keep building it would have got to our heads on our part. Just calming ourselves and keeping our pace. My teammates motivate me on defense. I did get beat to the basket, but I got help. I think my teammates are what motivate me because I can really trust them.”

The Falcons opened the final stanza with four free throws and a steal by K. Baxter who fed J. Carandang for a shot past the arc and a 45-35 advantage.

The Falcons’ trust flowed through the substitutions too as TMHS senior Kara Strong made another strong showing off the bench, battling for four rebounds in the second half and a key basket in the fourth quarter

“I didn’t even know I was open,” Strong said. “Jenna (Dobson) made a really good pass to me and it was really nice. Obviously we are really excited to play Colony. It’s going to be a good game I think because the second night we played them we hung with them and I think we are all really excited to have a shot to go to the championship game, that’s what we wanted coming into this.”

Back-to-back baskets by Dimond sophomore Katie MacDonald and junior Mecca Goldsberry closed the score to 45-39 but TMHS’ K. Baxter scored on a rebound and Lockhart buried her fourth shot past the arc for a 50-39 lead.

Goldsberry scored for Dimond with 2:49 remaining in the game, but the Falcons went on a run with a free throw by C. Baxter, a basket by K. Baxter, and four straight free throws by Lockhart for a 57-41 advantage. J. Carandang would score a final free throw for the Falcons.

Lockhart was a perfect 3-3 past the arc and 4-4 at the charity stripe for the game.

“I think my role is to distribute the ball and set my teammates up for the win,” Lockhart said. “In games like these that are pressured I try to keep everybody calm and get them set up in the plays to do what they do best individually.”

Dimond’s Rodriguez scored past the arc with 35 seconds remaining and Wilcox hit past the arc, but the Lynx fell 58-47.

“It’s a big win for this program, for this school, for the community,” Thunder Mountain coach Andy Lee said. “These kids are going through amazing emotional cycles with the closure, the potential closure, and for them to be able to focus and hone in on this day…I’m not surprised because this is what they do in practice. They never get too high, we don’t chest bump, we don’t signal ‘three’ when we make one. I’m probably the only one that shows any emotion out there. These girls are laser focused. That’s the best cliche I can come up with. And to follow up after the boys game. The hardest thing was to keep the girls out of the boys game because I didn’t want them to be emotionally spent on the boys game and then it turns out to be overtime. We learned a lot about ourselves today. We played and won in the first round. No secrets with Colony, we just have to play to our potential.”

TMHS improves to 23-3 and will face the top-seeded Colony Knights (24-3) who opened state play with a 62-33 win over North Pole (11-10).

The Knights have given TMHS two of their three losses, 71-31 and 57-48, in the Falcons gym mid-February. TMHS’ only other loss was to Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé 42-40.

In other action third-ranked Mountain City Christian Academy (22-3) bested sixth-ranked Service (18-10) 59-54 and second-ranked Wasilla (20-5) buried seventh-ranked Bartlett (16-11) 47-22.

Mountain City and Wasilla play at 4:45 p.m. Friday in the second semifinal.

In Friday’s losers’ bracket Service faces Bartlett at 9:30 a.m. and Dimond (26-7) plays North Pole at 11 a.m.

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