By GARY KINGSTON (Special for VarsityLetters.ca)
LANGLEY – It was throwback basketball at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday. Maybe not quite to the game’s origins – inventor James Naismith and his peach baskets.
But when R.A. McMath of Richmond ground out a 51-46 win over the MEI Eagles of Abbotsford 51-46 in the final of the Triple A senior girls B.C. championship, it was the lowest scoring game in a girls final since 1983.
“Oh, my god, that doesn’t say much for us, does it,” said McMath Wildcats head coach Jamie Kippan, whose squad topped 100 points in two of its three earlier games in the tournament. “We haven’t been in a game like that all year. We’re used to scoring way more points.
“Full credit to MEI for the battle they put up. They had a good game plan and they made it hard for us to score.”
But after losing a 22-8 lead early in the second quarter when MEI went on a 14-0 run to close out the half, McMath made enough key baskets when it counted to capture the first provincial title in any sport, any gender for the school that has been around for a quarter of a century.
“The girls knew that,” said Kippan, as he choked up a bit. “To do it with this group? I couldn’t ask for more. Our girls battle so hard, put in so much time. All last year when there was (a season canceled because of Covid), and there was no real reason to be in the gym, they kept coming to practice and kept working hard.”
The McMath student cheering section rushed the floor at the final buzzer and surrounded the players in a raucous screaming, leaping huddle of humanity.
Marina Radocaj, the Wildcats’ dominant 6-foot-2 post, said it was a special feeling to be part of McMath’s first school title.
“It means so much,” said Radocaj as she clutched one of the small bouquet of flowers given to the winners. “We created history. I’m so proud of this team,” she added before shouting: “WE WON THE PROVINCIAL TITLE! FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER!
As with most everybody else on the floor, Radocaj had a tough first half, being constantly double- and triple-teamed whenever she got the ball, harassed and bullied at times by the Eagles’ bigs Marijke Meindertsma and Jazmin Avila and a combination of collapsing guards.
But the game turned late in the third quarter when Avila picked up two fouls in the final 54 seconds to foul out of the game. Then with 6:45 left in the fourth, Meindertsma was whistled for her fifth and final foul, a blocking call that appeared to be completely away from the play.
Radocaj scored eight of her game-high 20 points after that point. And with bodies all around under the basket, still managed to pull down 20 rebounds.
“I don’t want to say what needs to be said,” said a frustrated Eagles’ coach Rick Thiessen as it took all his restraint he had not to blurt out complaints about the officiating.
“But I’m super proud of the girls. These girls have heart. They didn’t doubt themselves. They thought ‘We still have a chance. Even though everything is working against us we still have a chance.’”
Jamie Kippan conceded that McMath caught a break when Avila and Meindertsma fouled out.
“We got fortunate that a couple of their bigger bodies weren’t on the floor at the end of the game. But we’re supposed to take advantage and we did. And that’s finals. Teams are supposed to be that good. We expected a close game and that’s what we got.”
After missing her first 12 shots, Eagles’ scoring star Makenna Reimer, whose shot has more arc than a daredevil stuntman shot out of cannon, hit her first four of the second half, including three three-pointers, to give MEI a chance. But the Eagles didn’t make a basket in the last five minutes, the only four points coming from the free throw line.
“It was a very big battle,” said McMath Wildcats Grade 11 forward Caitlin Kippan, who had 15 points. “Both teams put a lot of pressure on each other. There was just so many stops, so much back and forth.”
Kippan said she couldn’t wait to get back to school on Monday to celebrate the historic win.
“It’s going to be crazy. I’m going to be so happy to go back to school. That’s the first time I can say that.”
Reimer and Meindertsma each had 11 points to lead the Eagles, who wound up shooting just 24.6 per cent from the field, just a tick below the 25.4 per cent of McMath.
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