Thunder Mountain High School’s Kara Strong keeps the ball away from Ketchikan High School’s Kylie Brendible during Saturday night’s game at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School’s Kara Strong keeps the ball away from Ketchikan High School’s Kylie Brendible during Saturday night’s game at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

TMHS girls weather challenge from Ketchikan, prevail with two more wins

Falcons, now 15-1, prepare for test of state supremacy against 16-2 Colony at home this weekend.

With a score of 23-8 at the end of the first period, it might be easy to assume which team had a 13-1 record and which was 4-13. But it was the Thunder Mountain High School girls, who have prevailed by dominating margins much of the season, who found themselves on the short end Friday night at home against previously struggling Ketchikan High School.

The Falcons crept back, but trailed the Kings 31-24 at halftime and 42-37 after three quarters. TMHS finally broke through in the fourth quarter, outscoring Ketchikan 18-6 to prevail by a final score of 55-48.

In a rematch the following night it was again an even battle early on, with Ketchikan rallying from an early deficit to take the lead at one point before trailing at halftime 26-22. But that’s when the Falcons’ early season dominance reasserted itself, as the team outscored the Kings 19-6 in the third quarter and coasted to a 52-33 win.

“We did some defensive changes, we increased our pressure a little bit,” TMHS Head Coach Andy Lee said, comparing Saturday’s game to Friday’s. “We didn’t change our matchup so much as we changed our mindset. Our mindset is we can beat you a variety of ways. We can win a slow-pace game, we can win a high-scoring game, we can win an inside game, or we can win an outside game. So we can win a variety of ways. Our strength isn’t that we’re just fast, or we’re just tall. Our strength is that we’re versatile.”

Keidre Hartman takes a jump shot for Thunder Mountain High School during Saturday’s game against Ketchikan High School at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Keidre Hartman takes a jump shot for Thunder Mountain High School during Saturday’s game against Ketchikan High School at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The team’s depth also helped in prevailing against Ketchikan because “right now my eighth kid is better than his eighth kid and that’s the difference,” Lee said.

The Falcons opened the season with nine straight road wins before playing their first home game, including victories by margins of 81-12 and 73-16. The team’s lone loss was a 42-40 defeat Feb. 2 at home to Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on a last-second shot by the Crimson Bears.

Lee said while his team is in midseason form, the players are also still recovering from a lag caused by record snowfall in January that resulted in several days of schools being closed to in-person activities.

“We’re still kind of suffering from the snow week that the Juneau School District has where we were all at home doing distance learning,” he said. “And we didn’t practice for four consecutive days. So our conditioning level went down. And so we haven’t quite recovered from that yet. We’ll be better next week.”

TMHS (15-1), ranked seventh statewide by MaxPreps, will get a matchup test at home Friday and Saturday against second-ranked Colony High School (16-2).

“We want to test ourselves against the best,” Lee said.

Thunder Mountain High School’s Cailynn Baxter (#23) runs into traffic during Saturday’s game against Ketchikan High School at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School’s Cailynn Baxter (#23) runs into traffic during Saturday’s game against Ketchikan High School at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Falcons will go into those games knowing what can happen if they’re in less-than-peak form. Lee said Ketchikan caught his team off-guard by jumping out to a large lead in their first game during the past weekend.

“They came out and they jumped on us, and they punched us in the nose,” he said. “And we’d gotten back on our heels a little bit. We played passively. And we haven’t been behind offseason. So we kind of had to retool a little bit.”

“Our senior leadership did a really exceptional job of talking, staying positive on the bench, finger pointing and making adjustments. And so when we came out the second half of the first night we were more focused. It was the same style of game — it was a grinded game. And so we just grind better than they do because we’re a little deeper.”

The “tall twins” among TMHS’ twin pair of starters led the Falcons, with Kerra Baxter scoring 16 points and sibling Cailynn Baxter scoring 13. Ketchikan’s Bree Johnson led all scorers with 19 points, while Kali MacManus had 13.

Thunder Mountain High School Head Coach Andy Lee confers with his players during a timeout in Saturday’s game against Ketchikan High School at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School Head Coach Andy Lee confers with his players during a timeout in Saturday’s game against Ketchikan High School at TMHS. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Saturday’s game went the Falcons’ way much of the first half, but the Kings narrowed the gap several times and finally took a one-point lead in the second quarter. But TMHS — again led by Kerra Baxter’s 18 points and Cailynn Baxter’s 10 points — effectively put the game out of reach by the end of the third quarter as they limited the Kings’ Johnson to 10 points as her team’s leading scorer.

“We’re a good second-half team,” Lee said. “I am reluctant to be excited about that because it means you’re not a good first-half team. And we don’t want our signature to be ‘Oh, we start slow, so it’s OK.’”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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