The Dimond Lynx had to travel through Fairbanks to get to Wasilla, a three-day journey that will end Saturday night when Dimond meets two-time defending champion Wasilla Warriors in the title game of the Class 4A state tournament at Sullivan Arena.
Dimond beat a Fairbanks team for the second straight day, tripping Lathrop 67-51 in Friday's semifinal to earn a shot at Wasilla, a 48-23 semifinal winner over Colony.
The win puts Dimond in the championship game for the first time in 2006, allowing the team's five seniors to wrap things up the way they always dreamed.
"It's the best feeling ever," said senior Sierra Afoa, who led the Lynx with 14 points, eight rebounds, six steals and three assists. "My older sisters played in state championship games, and we'd all go watch them and we always wanted to play in a championship game. Just the joy of being able to play in front of that many people."
Most of the Lynx have been playing together since 7th grade, and in some cases even longer, Afoa said. They've been a top Cook Inlet Conference team, but until now they haven't gotten past the state semifinals.
The seniors are in the big game thanks to a big second quarter. Leading 15-14 with just under five minutes left in the half, Dimond ended with a 15-2 run that gave it a 30-16 halftime lead. Tara Thompson buried a pair of 3-pointers, Aminata Cole hit one and Afoa scored two field goals and two free throws in the game-changing stretch.
"When our shooting's on, it's on," Afoa said.
When Lathrop mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter, Dimond displayed sharp passing to run time off the clock.
Ahead 48-49 with 4:46 remaining, the Lynx took nearly two minutes off the clock before Lathrop amassed enough fouls to put Dimond in the bonus. Thompson hit a pair of free throws at 3:04 for a 50-40 lead to finally give Lathrop possession.
Senior Jasmine White and freshman Ruthy Hebard helped the Malemutes cut the gap to seven points with 1:24 remaining, but the Lynx hit five of six from the foul line to secure the win.
Hebard, a 6-foot-2 center who gives Lathrop a promising future, used her long arms to steal three inbound passes and finished with game highs of 19 points and 13 rebounds. White added 12 points.
Dimond landed four in double figures -- Afoa, Cole (13 points, 10 rebounds), Thompson (13 points, 4 steals) and Karenna Liggon (11 points). Ione Fischer chipped in eight points and nine assists.
Wasilla 48, Colony 23
Wasilla limited Colony to two points in the first quarter and six in the first half to breeze to a 48-23 victory over its conference rival.
Kyla Dinkel, the Class 4A Player of the Year, shot 50 percent, hitting 6 of 12 for 17, and the Warriors shot 40 percent as a team, hitting 18 of 45.
Alexis Imoe pitched in 13 points and five others scored for Wasilla. Alysha Devine added five steals to her six points and Savannah Burke added seven rebounds to her six points.
The Warriors limited Colony star Mary Klapperich to one point on 0 for 9 shooting; as team, the Knights connected on less than 20 percent of their shots (8 of 41).
Faith Farris led Colony with eight points and nine rebounds.
Two early-morning consolation games went to Kodiak and Juneau. Kodiak used a big second quarter to put away West Valley 63-54, and Juneau rallied in the fourth quarter against West for a 57-46 win.
Hannah Wandersee's 18 points led Kodiak, with Carissa Canen tossing in 14 points and Megan Pyles recording a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
West Valley also got a double-double, from Hannah Mattson, whose 23 points and 11 rebounds came with six assists and five steals. Kodiak outscored West Valley 22-10 in the second quarter.
Juneau, behind 23 points from Gabi Fenumiai, closed its win on a 24-15 fourth-quarter run. Marissa Brakes and Kaitlin Fagerstrom each pitched in 12 points for the Crimson Bears.
Chanel Bookert led West with 18 points, making four 3-pointers along the way. CeCe Cockerham pulled in a team-high seven rebounds to go with 10 points.