Warriors bitten by Gators in championship game
It was close but no cigar once again for the White Rock Christian Academy Warriors at the BC Boys AAA Basketball Championships.
The Warriors – who lost the provincial championship game in 2008 and 2010 – were edged this time by the Walnut Grove Gators 59-53 Saturday night at a raucous, jam-packed Langley Events Centre.
And while the game was heartbreaking for the Warriors – and the hundreds of blue-clad fans who populated the north-end of the arena – the game was sweet vindication for the Gators, who lost last year's final to the Terry Fox Ravens after letting a fourth-quarter lead slip away.
There would be no slipping this time, however, as Walnut Grove, led by Grade 11 star and tournament MVP Jadon Cohee, opened up a nine-point lead earlier in the fourth quarter.
White Rock – who trailed most of the game, but not by more than single digits – battled back to tie the game.
As the final minutes ticked off the clock, Cohee scored the go-ahead basket on a spinning drive to the hoop to put his team up 55-53, and then Walnut Grove hit their free throws down the stretch to win by six, giving the Langley school it's first-ever boys basketball provincial title.
"You never want to lose your last game, especially when it's the championship game," said WRCA coach Dale Shury.
"It was so close. Even when they opened it up to nine, I didn't think they were going to run away with it. I knew we'd be able to tighten it back up again, and we did. We just couldn't quite get there."
Neither team shot particularly well – White Rock was 31.7 per cent from the floor, while Walnut Grove shot 34.4 per cent – but it was a handful of WRCA turnovers that hampered the comeback attempt.
"We did have some sloppy, unforced turnovers, especially in the fourth quarter. We missed some shots, too – our shooting percentage was down, but so was Walnut Grove's, that's just the way it went," said Shury, who said post-game that he's planning to take a break from coaching next season.
Cohee led all scorers with 22 points, four rebounds, four steals and four assists. The Warriors – who played just six players in the final – were led by a 14-point effort from Peter Spangehl, while Tyus Allen had 13 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. Sam Ykema had 13 points as well, and Vartan Tanelian chipped in with 10.
The two squads were no strangers to each other, having played three times earlier in the season, with White Rock winning twice. WRCA edged the Gators in double overtime in the Legal Beagle tournament, and also got the better of their rivals at Vancouver College's Emerald tourney. Walnut Grove beat White Rock in the Fraser Valley finals earlier this month.
"We knew going in how tough it was going to be. We'd had close games with them all three times," Shury said.
"We're pretty well-matched with them across the board…at the beginning of the season, I really thought we'd be one and two, us and Grove, and here we are. Once you get to the final, anything can happen… they just got this one."
Though they've now lost their last three trips to the finals, White Rock has been among the most consistent B.C. AAA teams in the last decade, routinely advancing to the Final Four.
Aside from a misstep in 2011 when they missed the tournament entirely, WRCA has finished no worse than fourth since 2006. They last won a B.C. title in 2005.
The game was the culmination of what Shury called "a three-year ride" for the Warriors, nearly all of whom are in Grade 12 this year. As juniors, the group won a provincial title.
"We won a junior championship, won some other stuff along the way, but couldn't win the big one, but me personally, I've just had a blast with these kids the last three years," Shury said. "More than anything, it's not even basketball-related. It's the way they've represented their school, their families. From us as coaches, you can't ask for any more than that. They're just a great bunch of young men."
To advance to Saturday's final game, White Rock had to get past a tough Kitsilano Blue Demons team who, like WRCA, were one of the province's top top four seeds.
In Friday's semifinal, White Rock won by a bucket, 74-72, opening up a two-point lead when Allen drove the lane and deposited a layup with just 2.4 seconds left in the game.
With time for one last play, Kitsilano couldn't get the ball close enough to the hoop to take one final shot, giving White Rock the win.
"The first two games were a wakeup call for us... but we got it done," said white Rock's Vartan Tanelian after the game.
Right, those first two games.
The Warriors needed overtime in back-to-back games – first in their tournament opener against Enver Creek and then against the W.J. Mouat Hawks in quarter-finals – to advance into the Final Four.
In the latter game, WRCA led a five-point lead lapse in the final minute, and Hawks' Corey Hauck sent the game to OT by sinking a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
In extra time, with his team down three, Hauck again had the chance to play hero, but his late three-point attempt missed, giving White Rock a 72-69 win.
Allen, who will play next season at Trinity Western University where his dad, Scott, is head coach, was named to the tournament's first-team all-star, while Vartan Tanelian and Peter Spangehl were named to the second and third all-star teams, respectively.