PORT COQUITLAM — There is an invisible connection on the basketball court which seems to bind Coquitlam’s Centennial Centaurs.
And on Saturday night, in the championship final of the 31st annual Terry Fox Legal Beagle Invitational, it was impossible not to notice the chemistry between it’s two most dynamic players: Guard Leif Skelding and forward Dom Parolin.
Nursing a two-point lead in the late going over its latest arch-nemesis, the Burnaby South Rebels, the 6-foot-8 Parolin dropped the perfect pass in the paint to his fellow senior Skelding for a quick lay-up.
On the Centaurs’ next possession, there was more of that chemistry apparent in the ways in which the pair played off of each other, Skelding keeping the Rebels’ defence off balance with the threat of a pass to Parolin, before cutting a swath to the basket for a driving layup and a 61-55 lead with 2:42 remaining.
If you’re getting the idea that whatever you throw at these No. 1-ranked Centaurs, they will have the answer, you’re probably right.
And although No. 3 Burnaby South (19-2) is hinting at even greater things as two key players rejoin their ranks in the new year, there was no question that Centennial (17-1) was full value for its eventual 66-60 win and its first-ever Legal Beagle title.
“It just feels natural because we’ve been playing together since we were in Grade 9,” said Skelding, who scored 17 points and was chosen the tournament’s Most Valuable Player while Parolin, who scored 21 points and almost seemed to block or change as many shots, was picked the tourney’s Top Defensive Player.
“It’s been a lot of hard work in the gym,” added Skelding. “Just day after day and I think we’ve earned this spot as the No. 1 team in the province.”
Yet for the first half, it looked like Burnaby South, which is in the midst of re-introducing 6-foot-10 senior forward Sasha Vujisic and ultra-smooth guard Emir Krpic into the rotation, was the team in command.
With the game tied 23-23 early in the second quarter, the Rebels were able to begin to push the tempo of the game, and in doing so, closed the half on a 17-5 run to lead 40-28.
The Centaurs came out of the halftime locker room a different team, however, starting on a 9-0 run and managing to hold serve the rest of the way.
“You have to congratulate them for how they played,” said Rebels’ head coach Mike Bell. “They had a great second half and we didn’t.”
“We talked at the half about all of the turnovers we made and how they are really good at capitalizing on our mistakes,” said Centaurs’ co-coach Lucian Sauciuc. “In the second half, I think we made five turnovers. That was the key. If you let them get out and run, they are really dangerous. We slowed the pace, and we made them play offence against our five set defenders. It’s something we’ve been preaching.”
Through it all, Parolin displayed not only incredible toughness, facing in many sets, both Vujisic and hard-rock 6-foot-7 Grade 10 bookend Karan Aujla on the floor simultaneously.
Yet Parolin’s ability to not only be effective at tempo, but also in the open court, where he seems to so easily grasp a fluid guard’s mindset, was paramount Saturday in neutralizing the weapons and the depth of the Rebels.
Skelding was impressed.
“First of all, a shout-out to Emi and Sasha coming back,” said Skelding, a true sportsman and team player. “They are really valuable players for that team and so for Dom to take that physicality? Dom is a top-tier player. In my opinion he is the best player in B.C. so it’s natural for him to take them (Vujisic, Aujla) on, and great for him to have that kind of competition with Sasha.”
And Saturday’s win, despite what the rankings may have predicted, was still a huge victory for the current group of Centennial players.
Last season, Burnaby South beat Centennial handily in all four of their meetings.
First, an 85-69 win Dec. 6 in the opening round of the Tsumura Basketball Invitational at the LEC.
That was followed Dec. 21 with a 69-52 loss in the final of the Rebels’ own Rod Thomson Memorial.
Six days later, on Dec. 27, the Centaurs were drubbed 101-66 by the Rebels at the Tamanawis Christmas Classic.
And finally, in the quarterfinals of the B.C. Quad-A championships back at the LEC, on March 7, the Rebels rolled Centennial 81-60.
“They beat us at the B.C.’s and that was the most important one,” said Skelding. “It feels great to beat Burnaby South because they are a great program. What coach Bell is doing with them is phenomenal, so it’s an honour to beat them.”
Selected to the first all-star team were Burnaby South’s Jareb Pineda and Justin Sunga, Centennial’s Parolin, Jaxon Cohee of St. George’s and Cam Slaymaker of Terry Fox.
Centennial scorers: Dom Parolin 21, Leif Skelding 17, Paul Didenko 9, Braeden Markiewicz 8, Ryan Lee 5, Dante Petrescu 5, K.C. Ibekwe 2.
Burnaby South scorers: Emir Krpic 15, Sasha Vujisic 14, Justin Sunga 9, Karan Aujla 8, Jimmy Zaborniak 7, Jareb Pineda 6.
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