High School Sports

Thunder Mountain boys stun Service in overtime to advance to 4A state basketball finals

Due to budget constraints, the Juneau School Board will be converting Thunder Mountain High School into a middle school effective next school year, and all area high school kids will be consolidated at Juneau-Douglas High School.

For the No. 6-seeded Falcons boys team, this year’s run to the state finals isn’t just the last ride for the seniors, but for the high school basketball program altogether. That made their thrilling 48-45 overtime upset win over No. 2 seed Service in the 4A state championship tournament semifinals on Friday night even more meaningful.

“This is it, this is our last hurrah for the high school,” senior Thomas Baxter said. “We’ve been through a lot for Thunder Mountain and we just want to put our name on the map one last time.”

The semifinal was the Falcons’ second overtime game this week, and it turned out to be an instant classic that featured lead changes and momentum shifts. But the Falcons’ belief in themselves never wavered even when time was running short in the final minutes of regulation.

“We just kept it close and we knew we’d knock down a couple shots,” Thunder Mountain head coach John Blasco said. “I was really pleased with the defense collectively on our team and I knew shots would fall soon.”

Baxter was a force to be reckoned with throughout the game but came up clutch in the fourth quarter and overtime on his way to earning Player of the Game honors.

“These boys never surprise me, and they just have so much fight in them,” Blasco said. “On Wednesday it was Sam (Lockhart) that said, ‘Give me the ball,’ and today it was Thomas.”


Baxter hit a big 3-pointer to bring his team within one point with 1:35 left, and made up for missing an easy go-ahead layup by knocking down a pair of free throws to tie the game at 42-42 after getting fouled with 2.4 seconds left. And in overtime, he scored four of his team’s six points to clinch the win.

“He wanted that ball, we wanted to get him isolated, we thought we had a great look at it and didn’t get a call or anything,” Blasco said about Baxter’s missed layup. “He wanted it back and said, ‘Give me that ball again,’ and we did that full court pass to our most athletic kid.”

After leading his team with a game-high 23 points and helping them advance to their only state finals appearance in program history, the only emotion that Baxter was feeling was a tremendous amount of relief.

“You can’t even explain the emotions going through in that moment,” he said. “Crowds screaming on both sides of the floor. I just had to have confidence in myself. I’ve done this before, but it’s a little different at the state tournament. It’s a dream come true.”

His whole family was part of the caravan of supporters who made the trek up from the state’s capital city, and honoring them was at the forefront of his mind.

“We prayed before this game that we would play our hardest for the people back home and the people that came to support us and we did,” Baxter said.

After the game, Blasco “started shaking, just thinking about a title,” but knows it won’t come easy and wants to cherish each moment of the experience while it lasts.

“We’re here and we’re enjoying every single second on that court together as a group,” he said. “We’re going to go out one more time tomorrow night and give the fans a show and hope it goes our way.”

Defense carries East past Monroe Catholic and to fourth straight state finals

The Bettye Davis East Thunderbirds came into their semifinal matchup as heavy favorites to punch their ticket to Saturday’s championship game with another strong performance — but No. 5 seed Monroe Catholic didn’t get the memo.

The Rams gave the defending 4A state champions all they could handle and then some on Friday night, but a strong defensive effort thwarted their hopes of pulling off an upset as East advanced to a fourth straight finals appearance with a 45-39 win.

“We trusted in our defense today and that’s what got us the win,” East’s Muhammed Sabally said.

East committed fewer turnovers with eight to Monroe’s 10 and won the battle of the boards by 11, outrebounding the opposition 27-16.

“If you’re a championship-caliber team, you defend every night and you rebound every night,” East coach Chuck Martin said. “This program is built on defense, rebounding and toughness.”

Even when the game was close and saw East briefly trail at one point, the Thunderbirds still believed they would be able to pull it off.

“We just had to keep our heads up, stay positive, and then keep playing,” Sabally said. “We just try to keep a positive mindset, down or up. The game is full of runs so we try to keep our heads up.”

Martin praised the Rams for being disciplined and well coached, and for making the Thunderbirds play their best.

“I’m proud of (my team) not just because we got to the (finals) but because we got tested tonight and we found a way to get through,” he said. “We haven’t been tested very much this year. Our margin of victory is 25 points a game, and when everybody comes to watch us, they expect to watch East blow people out.”


As much as the Thunderbirds enjoy and revel in their lopsided victories, they prefer to play at a much more methodical pace that allows them to dictate the tempo of the game.

“We like to beat you and hope our defense wears you out,” Martin said. “The pressure that we feel is not the fact that we’re defending state champions but the fact that we haven’t been in a ton of close games.”

[Wasilla, Colony girls advance to set up an all Mat-Su 4A state basketball finals matchup]

This marks Sabally’s third straight trip to the state finals and second season as a focal point of the team. He led East with 13 points and came up with a clutch steal late in the fourth quarter that helped the Thunderbirds continue a 12-5 run to pull away and close the game out.

“Going back three times is a blessing,” he said. “(We’ve) got to get ready for (Saturday) and play a good Thunder Mountain team.”

Martin believes the Falcons are “tremendously talented” led by Baxter and Lockhart.

“They’re as good as guards as there is in the state and they are a handful to guard,” he said. “I’ve got to figure out how to defend them, what we can get away with offensively, and hopefully give ourselves a chance to win another game.”

4A Boys Basketball Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center




Service 55, Wasilla 41

Thunder Mountain 53, West Valley 51 (OT)

Bettye Davis East 55, Palmer 36

Monroe Catholic 53, West Anchorage 43



West Valley 57, Wasilla 42

West Anchorage 69, Palmer 62


Thunder Mountain 48, Service 45 (OT)


Bettye Davis East 45, Monroe Catholic 39


4th/6th place

West v. West Valley at 10:30 a.m. (Auxiliary gym)


Service v. Monroe Catholic, 10:30 a.m. (Main court)



Bettye Davis East v. Thunder Mountain at 7:30 p.m. (Main court)

Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.