LANGLEY — The Rainmakers were the reigning champs who came to Langley this week to prove that while slightly re-tooled, they still had the stuff for a repeat.
Despite losing the talents of 6-foot-9 2019 MVP Liam McChesney, Prince Rupert’s Charles Hays Rainmakers soldiered on and refined an identity built around both senior leader Kai Leighton and an entire team of go-to role players to defeat Vancouver’s King George Dragons 67-45 and repeat as B.C. Double A senior boys basketball champions at the Langley Events Centre.
“It’s just trusting my guys, and they put a lot of trust in putting the ball in my hands,” said Leighton, McChesney’s trusted lieutenant a season ago, and this season its guiding force. “I know that when I am not feeling it, they can rely on me.”
The Rainmakers delivered the fifth title (1964, 1998, 2001, 2019, 2020) in school history with a little of both.
Leighton, the 6-foot-4 senior forward, finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds en route to being named tournament MVP.
Yet before he capped the proceedings by knocking down a triple in the dying stages, the Rainmakers got huge plays from point guard Tyler Jones (19 points), guard Rylan Adams (12 points), gutsy forward Kaden Pagens (15 points, eight rebounds) and lockdown defence from Brendan Eshom.
“We just had guys that take pride in the defensive side of the game,” said Hays’ assistant coach Ryan Bishop. “(King George’s 6-foot-9 forward) Niko (Guzina) is a great player, amazing actually, and he had a great tournament,” added Bishop of the Dragons’ star who was limited to 17 points and six rebounds.
“Kai did a great job on him, and then when Kai got in foul trouble, Brendan Eshom… he’s been our guy all year defensively, he really stepped up and took so much pride in it.”
The Rainmakers hit a roadblock in the second quarter.
Leading 21-12 after the first frame, they managed just eight points in the second quarter, and thus its 29-25 lead seemed anything but safe at the half.
And that was especially disconcerting to the coaching staff, given the No. 1 seed’s propensity for having poor third quarters in the tourney.
“At the half, we went into the locker room and just told the guys that the first five minutes were going to be huge, especially when you looked at how poorly we played against St. Thomas Aquinas (in the quarterfinals) and Brentwood College (in the semifinals),” said Bishop.
“We came out flat in both of those game, but today we stepped it up and we just kept attacking.”
And of course, like the Rainmakers could count themselves fortunate for having had McChesney last season as a senior, they could say the same thing Saturday for having Leighton in their lineup as a senior in 2019-20.
“When you lose a 6-9 guy like that it hurts,” Bishop confirmed. “We didn’t have that rim protector so the guys all just stepped up and played defence. These guys all worked so hard all summer and they embrace the team game.
“We have a point guard (Tyler Jones) who can penetrate at will, we did a great job running the offence and Kai is just an animal.”
Alejandro Rios added 13 points for King George while Maksim Kovacevic had 10 rebounds, including six off the offensive glass.
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