LANGLEY — In the biggest games of his young basketball life, Irish Coquia has averaged an amazing 30 points per game.
Yet in any description of the seemingly-indescribable St. Patrick’s Celtics’ Grade 11 guard, it’s important to note that despite his gaudy point totals, he scores higher in the intangibles department than any other statistical category.
On Saturday, in the fourth quarter of the B.C. Triple-A championship final against Surrey’s Elgin Park Orcas, one played to the most deafening crowds of the entire week here at the 76th annual tournament, the kid named after a Goo Goo Dolls’ song seemed to have the Celtics’ cheering section roaring in chorus to his every move.
After a brief chat with his head coach, Nap Santos, late in that final quarter, Coquia took his marching orders to heart, and in a span of only 3:05, took his team from a 46-38 deficit to a 55-50 lead, the 17-4 run featuring not only 15 Coquia points, but Coquia assists of the no-doubt variety on the run’s two other made-baskets.
MVP performance included 29 rebounds, six rebounds and six steals
And in the end, with an MVP performance which included 29 points, six rebounds and six steals, that run took the game down to the final 16 seconds of an eventual 56-52 win over the No. 2-seeded Orcas, giving the No. 1-seeded Celtics its first-ever provincial title at the Triple-A tier.
St. Patrick’s had previously won three B.C. Single-A titles.
Yet to describe the run numerically is to do it an horrific injustice, because it was a living, breathing example of one kid’s pure will in action.
Two years ago as a Grade 9, Coquia hit a game-winning trey with 17.4 seconds remaining to lift St. Pat’s past Vancouver’s Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs, part of a 31-point performance which not only led his team to B.C. junior boys title at the LEC, but made him the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Fast forward to 2022, and on cue, those Irish eyes were once again smiling.
Consider that this was a week in which his friend and running mate Kaden Carrion had suffered a broken leg in Thursday’s quarterfinal win over Surrey’s Princess Margaret Lions.
Following successful surgery, Carrion had been transported to the game in wheelchair which he used to take part in the game’s player introduction ceremonies.
At that point, the team’s emotions were running off the rails.
“I told (Coquia) with about five-and-a-half minutes to go ‘It’s your time,’” said Santos, whose team was trailing at that stage 46-37 against what can only be described as an incredibly talented, tall, long and deep squad of near-exclusive seniors Orcas.
“I told him ‘You have put in all the work when no one was watching, so now it’s you turn. Go ahead and get the ball and do your thing.’
“It was just ‘Go,’” continued Santos, whose description couldn’t be any more simpler or truthful. “We didn’t even run plays.”
Instead, Coquia somehow found the capacity within to go out and create turnovers, literally ripping the ball away from the opposition at times.
He keyed the run in the paint with a no-look dish to teammate Jornel Ursua for a lay-up to cut the lead to 46-40.
Then, a steal, a lay-up and a free throw to complete an and-one play made it 46-43.
On and on it went, finally relenting after he was fouled with both 33.4 seconds, and 16.1 seconds remaining, hitting all four free throws in the process to put his team up 55-50 in one of the most thrilling one-kid TKO’s in recent tourney history.
Back on the St. Pat’s sideline, as Carrion watched in the wheelchair, his right leg elevated following surgery to repair both a broken tibia and fibula, his emotions understandably began to get the better of him.
“We were losing, throughout the whole game,” he said afterwards as the nets were being cut down in celebration following the victory.
“And then Irish turned up, and the tears started coming down. From the time we came out of our last time out, I knew we had it,” he said.
The entire St. Pat’s contingent had dedicated the title game to their fallen teammate and had his surname adorned across all of their freshly-minted team t-shirts.
“The support was crazy and it’s good to know that everybody looks out for me,” Carrion added. “At the end of the day, all of my brothers playing on the court here, they did it for me.”
Which brings us back to the young man of the hour himself.
Irish Coquia, hugging the MVP trophy and laughing out loud about the flat-out audacity of his head coach Santos telling him to go and win the game.
(Editor’s note — Irish Coquia was named after the Goo Goo Dolls song Iris. His parents thought a baby girl was on the way but when they discovered it was a boy, they simply added an ‘H’ to the end. Read about his B.C. junior heroics back 2020 right here)
“He told me it was my time,” Coquia said confirmed. “He came up to me and he said ‘Go out there and hog the ball if you need to.’
“Nothing was working so I went back out there to work. But Elgin? That is a good team.
“I guess we just had the heart and the fans support? That meant everything. And that is why St. Pat’s is St. Pat’s.”
And that is the kind of game it was.
Elgin Park, which had led by as many as 15 points in the first half, seemed to have total command in the early going and led by a daunting 23-8 score at the end of the opening quarter.
From there, the Celtics made surges, but never led the game until Coquia stripped the ball with a most physical steal and converted it off a reverse lay-in for a 49-48 lead with just 38 seconds remaining.
Coquia’s teammate Joey Panghulan added 13 points in the win.
Elgin Park, a gloriously-talented and tall-timbered team with a chemistry-laden core of 10 seniors, were understandably gutted with the loss, one which came with the loss of 6-foot-5 forward Lucas Rolling, who was dominating inside to the tune of 16 points (and 12 rebounds) in the low-scoring affair but fouled out of the game.
The team’s star Grade 11, 6-foot-6 do-it-all forward Adam Olsen, finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, while 6-foot-5 senior guard Cyrus Harrison scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Growing up together in the same neighbourhood, Elgin Park was that true 1970s pure catchment team which defied the multi-sport odds with a cross-over contingent also leading the Orcas to a second-place finish at the B.C. boys top-tiered volleyball championships.
Silver is not gold, yet Orcas head coach Kirk Homenick didn’t have to dig hard for post-game nugget of wisdom, despite the fact that he too, felt the sting of the loss.
“Whether we won or lost tonight, it was going to be one of the saddest nights of my life,” he said, “because I was going to be saying good-bye to 10 great kids.”
On a championship Saturday, on a day when we got the game back after a year in mothballs, it did the heart good to know that win or lose, none of this ever happens without feeling.
That’s our game.
If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.