The Homer High School girls basketball team has started a new tradition.
Rebounding from an opening-round loss, the Mariners won their final two games to claim fourth place at the Alaska School Activities Association Class 4A State Championships Saturday at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
"After making state last year, (the team) graduated five seniors," said first-year Homer coach Megan Murphy. "At first, because we'd lost so much, I don't think state was an idea for the older girls but it didn't take long to realize we had the potential.
"With our younger girls, this is an expectation for them now."
After letting a lead slip away Thursday against Service, the Mariners came back to beat Dimond a team to which they had lost earlier in the season 48-39 in consolation bracket play Friday.
Homer finished up the tournament with a 50-47 win over North Pole Saturday.
"It's quite the way to end my senior season," said Homer's Bailey Lowney. "At the beginning of the season, we didn't expect this at all. It's awesome."
Allison Horazdovsky led the Mariners with 17 points against North Pole, earning player of the game honors. Lowney finished with 13 and Reba Temple contributed 10 points in addition to pulling down 12 rebounds.
The Mariners went down to the wire with the Patriots, leading by a point, 25-24, at the half and trailing by two, 37-35, entering the fourth quarter.
Homer took the lead for good on a layup with 1:52 left by Horazdovsky and then the Mariners hit their free throws in the closing minute.
A late basket pulled the Patriots to within three points, but after winning possession on a jump ball with two seconds to play, North Pole's bid to send the game to overtime rattled off the rim.
"It was awesome. We just pushed ourselves hard we didn't want to go out with a loss," said Horazdovsky.
In Friday's game, the Mariners built an early lead against Dimond, outscoring the Lynx 15-6 in the first quarter, and maintained their advantage through the rest of the game.
Lowney came through with 20 points for the Mariners, including a 3-for-3 effort from beyond the arc, and Kailee Pollack netted 12 points.
While the Mariners were disappointed after dropping their opening-round game, Lowney said her squad had no problem getting fired up to play Friday.
"I think it pushed us even more," said Lowney. "We wanted to prove to everybody that we could've been in the winners' bracket. It pushed us to play harder."
Murphy said she was excited to see the transformation of her team over the course of the season. In their first meeting with Dimond, Murphy said, some of her younger players were intimidated by the idea of playing the defending state champions. Friday, it was a different story.
"It was neat to play them here, play right with them and beat them," Murphy said. "We really came together over the last three weeks. Regions was the best we'd been all season, and we improved for state, too.
"Part of it was the team's we were playing, and part of it was coming together at the end of the season, realizing why we're doing it and putting all of our hearts into it."
Murphy said the tournament wins were great for the school as the Mariners hadn't been successful at state since winning state titles in 1989, 1990 and 1991 at the Class 3A level and then moving to the Class 4A level.
Lowney said it was nice to finish with a pair of wins after the Mariners lost both of their games at the state tournament a season ago.
"It's a long season. Last year, we fell apart. We were exhausted. This year, we came here knowing we could win, and we held it together," Lowney said.
As for the future, Lowney predicted big things for her teammates.
"We have some awesome players on this team. I know they'll make it to state. They're definitely going to be back," she said.
MARINERS 50, PATRIOTS 47
Homer 13 12 10 15 50
North Pole 13 11 13 10 47
HOMER (50) Bornheimer 0 0-0 0, Pollack 3 0-0 7, Creamer 0 0-0 0, Horazdovsky 7 2-4 17, McKinstry 1 1-2 3, Siekaniec 0 0-0 0, Lowney 4 4-4 13, Temple 4 2-2 10. Totals 19 9-12 50.
NORTH POLE (47) C. Hamsley 2 0-0 4, McIntosh 6 0-0 15, Tidwell 3 0-0 7, A. Hamsley 3 0-0 7, Larson 1 1-2 3, Gebhardt 0 1-2 1, McCormick 4 2-2 10, Bell 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 4-6 47.
3-point goals Homer 3 (Pollack, Horazdovsky, Lowney), North Pole 5 (McIntosh 3, Tidwell, A. Hamsley). Total fouls Homer 9, North Pole 11. Fouled out none.
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