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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
The Ketchikan High School girls basketball team closed out its regular season with three straight wins in Fairbanks.
The Lady Kings are hoping there's one more trip north left in store.
Kayhi kicks off the 4A Southeast tournament Tuesday at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka. The Lady Kings are the second seed, and will face 3-seed Thunder Mountain with the hopes of playing top-seeded Juneau-Douglas Wednesday afternoon.
According to senior Mikayla Brown-Harrison, spirits are high following wins against West Valley and North Pole — especially considering they followed a skid of five straight losses.
"After our five-game losing streak, we were just in a slump," she said. "After winning three games, now we're excited. I feel like we got our energy back, and people are just more into it now."
Head coach Kelly Smith said the energy translated into "two of the best practices we’ve ever had" on Monday and Tuesday.
Although the momentum slightly tailed off later in the week, Smith is confident his team has the ability to get past both Juneau schools and earn a trip to its first state tournament since 2009.
"So much with this group is taking care of ourselves," said Smith, whose team is 4-4 in conference play. "If we take care of our end, I'm very confident next week.
"But if we come out (flat) like we do sometimes, we're in trouble — against both teams."
According to Smith, it starts at the top with the team’s three captains: Bayley Lindgren, Jayley Taylor and Brown-Harrison.
"When your leaders are quiet, everybody follows," he said. "There's a reason they're leaders."
Lindgren has been one of Kayhi’s most consistent all-around players, showing an ability to get to the rim and hit the 3-pointer, while also playing physical defense.
Taylor is the Lady Kings’ leading scorer, and according to Smith is "getting closer" to 100 percent after twisting her ankle at the Lady Lynx Prep Shootout in mid-February.
Brown-Harrison admitted she’s not having the season she hoped for, but the 5-11 post player is finding her stride at the most important time of the year.
The senior scored 10 points in last week’s win over West Valley, and notched nine the following night against North Pole.
The next day she scored only two, but it was because the Patriots planned to stop her — something Smith said was crucial to his team’s 46-41 comeback win.
"We saw it when we trailed North Pole by 10 (last Saturday)," he said. "We kept pounding the ball to Mikayla — who was double-teamed because she had a good night the night before — and we're kicking it out to squared-up shooters. It changed the whole game."
Getting the ball into the post — and then passing to outside shooters — gets all five players on the court involved and in a rhythm, the coach said.
"We shoot a lot of jump shots, but the best jump shot is an inside-out (shot)," Smith said. "Side-to-side shots, your percentages go down a ton. So if you get the ball inside and kick out — that's a good shot. Your feet are square, and your shoulders are square."
Kayhi got off to a 3-1 start in conference play, following a sweep at home against Thunder Mountain and its first win at Juneau-Douglas in three years.
But the Lady Kings split with the Lady Falcons in Juneau, and dropped both games at home to the Crimson Bears in their final home games of the season.
Smith said it came down to his team beating itself, and if his players come ready to play in Sitka, they can get the job done.
"Every kid just needs to stop and prepare themselves mentally, and focus on their job," he said. "And also get excited — it's high school basketball. They got to enjoy it, and live in the moment. Everything's right there, and if they give 110 percent, we'll like where we end up."
Brown-Harrison knows she’ll draw a pair of tough matchups in Thunder Mountain’s Ashley Young and J-D’s Gabi Fenumiai.
But she agrees with Smith — on all counts.
"We focus on certain players on different teams, but our motto is just, 'Run,’" she said. "Get down the court, put your hands up and run them out of the gym.
"I’m so excited. I mean, this is my senior year and this is regionals. I’m hoping for the best — I really want to go to state."