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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
Ketchikan High School basketball coach Kelly Smith was at Mt. Edgecumbe High School’s gym early Thursday morning. But his team wasn’t there.
They didn’t have to be.
The Lady Kings were able to sleep in on Thursday because of what happened on Wednesday.
Shaelynn Mendoza, Kayhi’s 5’2” freshman, hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to bump the Lady Kings ahead of Juneau-Douglas High School 52-51, and put the Kayhi in the Region V 4A championship game Friday morning.
“It (sunk in) this morning, Mendoza said. “We got to sleep in today because we didn’t have any games.”
A couple of Lady Kings were with Smith watching Juneau-Douglas play Thunder Mountain High School at 8 a.m. in the double-elimination tournament’s semifinal.
But the rest of the Lady Kings were able to hit the snooze button a couple times. And once they woke up, they watched video footage of the game-winning shot.
“I keep replaying that video,” Kayhi’s Ashley Huffine said. “I’ve probably watched it like 50 times. But it’s just so cool, and it couldn’t have happened to a better person. I mean, she (Mendoza) went off in the game on (Feb. 23) against Juneau. And I don’t think the shot could’ve gone to a better person. It was really cool to see.”
Mendoza scored a team-high 11 points in Kayhi’s 36-30 win against the Lady Crimson Bears on Feb. 23. But Wednesday’s buzzer beater was her only basket that night — but she made her moment count.
“It was a great moment for our group; a special moment for Shae that she’ll never forget,” Smith said. “But we still have at least two more games.”
There is still more basketball to be played, as the Lady Kings now shift their focus back on Juneau-Douglas and Friday’s rematch. After all, a region championship is on the line.
“(Mendoza) did amazing, and as a team we worked hard,” Kayhi’s Madison Rose said. “And we want to celebrate in glory. But it’s not over yet. So you just have to keep that mentality.”
Juneau-Douglas is still the No. 1 seed in 4A. And with senior leaders Caitlin Pusich and Alyxn Bohulano chomping at the bit for a region title, Smith knows Friday will be a tough task.
“Juneau is a solid team,” he said. “Alyxn and Caitlin have been starting since they were freshmen. They’ve been through this; they haven’t won one of these. Their goal is to win one of these. And (Wednesday) definitely did not shut them down. They’ll be ready to go.”
Juneau-Douglas was able to turn the page from Wednesday’s outcome. Their 60 points on Thursday against Thunder Mountain High School was only the third time this season the Lady Crimson Bears hit that plateau, and it was the first time since December.
“(Wednesday) was disappointing for them,” Smith said. “But they didn’t check out.”
Kayhi would have a second shot at a regional title on Saturday if Friday doesn’t end in its favor. But the Lady Kings want to take care of business while momentum is on their side.
“We’ll go all out,” Smith said. “We’re going to throw everything at them. Hopefully we handle their pressure better than we did in the first half (on Wednesday).
“If we’re saying, ‘Hey, we still have Saturday’ — we need to focus on tomorrow, and (not) worry about Saturday,” he continued. “Take care of business, and do everything we possibly can to win (Friday).”
And that will be the game plan.
“I still feel like, overall this season, we’re probably considered the underdog,” Smith said. “And that’s OK because we are so young.”
Underdog or not, Kayhi has continued to battle all season long. Wednesday added more proof that they don’t plan on going away any time soon.
“No matter what, we’re always going to play hard,” Rose said. “Because we play more for each other, rather than ourselves.”