By Gary Kingston, Special for Varsity Letters
No. 1 CHARLES HAYS 78 No. 7 GEORGE ELLIOT 51
LANGLEY — Battled-tested by playing against men over the summer and Quad A teams this winter, the composed, tough-as-nails Charles Hays Rainmakers completed a demolition of B.C.’s Double A boys basketball ranks Saturday by claiming the school’s third provincial title.
Dominating inside behind the six-foot-nine Liam McChesney (25 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks) and hardscrabble six-foot-four forward Kai Leighton (20 and 13, plus five assists and five steals), the Prince Rupert school built a 37-point lead midway through the fourth quarter en route to a 78-51 beat down of the George Elliot Coyotes of Lake Country.
Top-seeded and a clear favorite coming into the Langley Events Centre, the Rainmakers left no doubt they were the class of the tier.
“I’m so happy man, so happy,” said small forward Eric Lees, a whirling dervish of a complement to the top scorers with 14 points. “All these dogs, most of us have been together since we were like Grade 6, we’ve just been hoopin’ and I love them so much. I can’t believe we’ve done this.
“And it’s not just the players,” added a beaming Lees. “It’s the parents. It’s the community. Everyone supported us. It’s just like a building that just goes up. Now we’ve put the top on that thing and we’re done. We are done!”
All the players praised long-time head coach Mel Bishop, the 65-year-old who also guided the Rainmakers, then as Prince Rupert Senior Secondary, to Double A titles in 1998 and 2001. He was ably assisted by son Ryan, who was a Grade 10 bench-warmer in ‘98 and who graduated a year before the 2001 win.
“I feel like this is my first provincial championship,” said Ryan. “It’s sweet. Nice to see what all the work can do. They worked so hard all year, all summer.
“In the summertime we don’t have keys to our gym, so they go to the civic centre . . . and play gritty, pickup basketball against guys who played university basketball, who play in the all-native tournament. It’s hard-nosed basketball and you learn that if you want to take the ball to the rack, you take it hard.”
McChesney, despite his rather slight frame, the solidly built Leighton and the fearless Lees all embodied that pugnacious attitude at both ends of the court.
Charles Hays led 21-8 after the first quarter, 39-18 at the break and 64-31 after three. Forced out to the perimeter, the Coyotes, playing for the first time in the tournament on the temporary floor in the hockey arena, just couldn’t adjust to the new sight lines and the tight rims, firing at a dismal 19 per cent through three.
Top scorer Nic Lafontaine had half-a-dozen airballs on a 3-for-22 afternoon, including 0-for-11 from three-point range. Cat-quick guard Ben Hitchens led the Coyotes with 19 points thanks to a trio of uncontested layups off steals and three garbage-time three-pointers, but as a team, George Elliot shot just 4-of-43 from long distance.
“Nic needed to hit some shots,” said head coach Dave Lafontaine, Nic’s father. “Yesterday (in the semifinal), he had it going on. Today not so much.
“But credit goes to them. They’re an outstanding team. Liam takes up so much room inside . . . they’re well-coached. They just got better and better in this tournament.”
McChesney, who is headed to NCAA Division 1 Utah State in the fall, threw down some emphatic dunks and also hit a couple of early three-pointers to signal that he was on his game.
“I definitely felt it today,” said McChesney, the tournament MVP. “Especially at the start of the game, we were all just up with energy. But I got to give it to my team, it’s not just me.”
McChesney did have to watch the final seven minutes from the bench after picking up a second — and questionable — technical for taunting.
“It was kind of just an in-the-moment thing,” said a sheepish McChesney. “Adrenaline just brought me to that place. Once I’m there, I get crazy.”
Mel Bishop said that to win another title “this late in my career,” was hugely rewarding, although having Ryan on the bench in ‘98 and his youngest son on the roster in 2001 was very special.
“But this group of kids, they have a lot of passion, they love the game,” added Bishop, who indicated he will back for at least another season. “The chemistry, they’re a very tight group. They hang around together. They like each other.”
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