East Thunderbirds finish as 4A boys champs after under-the-radar season
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Many basketball fans in Alaska knew the East Anchorage Thunderbirds were good, but not many predicted they would be state-champion good.
After losing numerous all-state seniors last season, the team reloaded with a perfect mix of seniors and underclassmen to propel East to the Class 4A boys state championship victory Saturday at the Alaska Airlines Center with a 53-48 win over West Valley in the final.
Last year, East’s season was ended by South High School with a game-winning shot in the final seconds of the 4A championship game.
This year a completely different story, as the Thunderbirds took a 29-16 lead into halftime over the #1-seeded Wolfpack.
The turning point in the game was a 20-5 run the Thunderbirds went on in the second quarter, capped off by a buzzer-beating layup before going into the locker room.
In the third quarter, the Wolfpack made some adjustments and started to claw back into the game, but East head coach Chuck Martin was playing his own game, having his team stall the ball for certain stretches of the game, much to the chagrin of the crowd.
Pleasing the crowd doesn’t win state championships, though, and the move ultimately proved to be right when West Valley made a late push but couldn’t overcome the deficit.
The East Anchorage team stormed the court after the final buzzer sounded, taking the 4A boys state title.
“Man, it’s great being here with all the seniors leaving last year, all the seniors leaving this year, we are a very young team. Just very emotional but last year we lost to a buzzer beater and this year we won by five. This is great,” East Anchorage junior Akeem Sulaiman said.
East Anchorage didn’t appear to be the top team in the state for most of the season — some of the players themselves admitted they had much to work on before they could get to that point.
At the end of the day though, the Thunderbirds put together all the pieces at the right time and made a run that will go down in the record books with the rest of East Anchorage’s rich basketball history.
“I don’t even know what to think, wow, this is crazy,” sophomore Muhammad Sabally said. “I didn’t expect this.”
While East will be graduating quite a few contributing seniors, sophomore breakout star Sabally is here to stay, scoring 20 points in the championship game.
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