- By RICHARD LARSON
- Daily News Sports Editor
- The effort was there, but the shots weren't falling for the Kayhi boys basketball team Thursday as they saw their season come to a difficult end in a 48-39 loss to the Falcons at the Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium.
Facing an energetic defensive effort from Thunder Mountain, Kayhi was held to just six points over the first 15 minutes of the second half, watching a nine-point first-half lead disappear on the way to being eliminated from the Southeast 4A region tournament.
The Kings finally solved the riddle to the basket in the final minute of play with five points from seniors Mark Dulay and Travis Taylor, but by then it was too late as six Kayhi seniors saw their high school careers come to a difficult end in front of a large supportive home crowd.
Thunder Mountain outscored Kayhi 27-11 in the second half, starting the second quarter on a 12-2 run and holding the Kings scoreless in the fourth quarter until the final minute of play.
Kyle Day, Fred Seludo, Donavan Bean, Horace Norris, Taylor and Dulay played their final minutes in their Kings basketball uniforms Thursday night.
"I think I was very blessed to have some guys with the highest character of any kids in the state of Alaska," Kayhi coach Eric Stockhausen said. "They worked very, very hard. They carried themselves with class. They have nothing to be disappointed in, because they put forth every bit of effort that they had. I just wish, for the seniors especially, that we could've found a way to extend the season."
"I think this is a very special group of guys," Day said. "I'm going to miss this group. We had some tremendous experiences. We had some weird and fun moments. We improved a lot from the start, but the whole season has been a bit of a roller coaster."
The roller coaster was in full effect Thursday as Kayhi fell behind 19-14 early before going on a 14-0 run that had the gym rocking and the Kings holding a 28-19 advantage. Kayhi led 28-21 at the half, but could not continue the success they found in the first half, when Day scored 11 points and Taylor powered inside for 15.
The Kings led 30-23 early in the second half after a pair of free throws by Taylor, but Thunder Mountain went on a 10-0 run to surge ahead 33-30. The run reached 17-4 after a 3-pointer by Ty Grussendorf put the Falcons up 38-32 late in the third.
A layup by Day momentarily halted the bleeding with 10 seconds left in the third quarter, but Kayhi would not score again until Dulay's basket with 59 seconds left in the game.
In the final seconds of play, both Taylor and then Day came out of the game to hugs from coach Eric Stockhausen and applause from the crowd.
"I'm just really happy that I came back," an emotional Taylor said after the game. "Coach Stockhausen just did a great job with us. We had a lot of great moments. I'm never going to forget this team. Obviously we were hoping to finish a bit different than this, but I was really happy to be a part of this team.
"We tried. Towards the end when it was my last minutes on the court, it got a little tough."
Day scored eight points in the first quarter and Taylor was nearly unstoppable inside in the first half as the Kings had things rolling.
"Day and Taylor came out full force at us," Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco said. "I kept watching the score, making sure it didn't get too big of a spread. Keeping it close was my main focus."
After looking a bit tired in the first half of their third game in three days, the Falcons rallied in the second half with a superb effort that tired out the Kings and aided in Kayhi's shots falling short.
"We threw several guys at Day. We made him work hard for every shot, and when he got a shot, we got a hand in his face," Blasco said. "I have the most respect for Day of any player we've had to play against. We just really tried to wear him out."
Taylor and Day combined for 34 of the Kings' 39 points. Dulay added five points. Day and Taylor combined for the majority of Kayhi's scoring throughout the season.
"With all the focus those two had on them all year, for them to continue to lead us in very difficult situations in a testament to the work they put in during the off season," Stockhausen said. "But all of the guys on our team exceeded expectations. They don't show up in the stat sheet as having scored 10 points, but all of our guys are out there on defense, guarding guys that are five or six inches taller than them, and being guarded by guys five or six inches taller.
"The reality is that when the last horn on the last game buzzed, the expectations for this team coming back were — well, minimal would be an understatement," Stockhause continued. "The wins and losses don't tell the whole story of what our kids have been able to do. If you have two 7-foot future NBA players on your roster, it is easy to look good as a coach. But these guys gave everything they had to try to make me look good and I'm very proud of them."
Thunder Mountain got balanced scoring from out of its lineup in the victory, with six players scoring between six and eight points.
The Falcons need to regroup and find the energy to come back again Friday at 8:15 p.m. against Juneau-Douglas in the first championship game. If Thunder Mountain wins that game in the double-elimination tournament, a second title game would be held at 8:45 p.m. Saturday.
"We've had three emotional games. They've played hard for three nights in a row," Blasco said. "I know that they are going to come back out again tomorrow and give it all they've got again."