LANGLEY — No deficit seems too dire if you’re East Vancouver’s Britannia Bruins.
The No. 2 seeds here at the B.C. senior girls Double A basketball championships may have been secretly sweating the details of the 14-point deficit they were facing just seconds into the second half against the No. 6 St. Thomas Aquinas Fighting Saints as Friday’s semifinal round opened at the Langley Events Centre.
Yet behind the senior play of point guard Shemaiah Abatayo and power guard/forward Surprise Munie, the Bruins rallied with a 21-9 third-quarter run, then hung on for dear life as the Fighting Saints’ senior Gemma Cutler had her overtime-forcing lay-in fall through the irons just a fraction of a second after the game clock has expired.
Final score: Britannia 75 St. Thomas Aquinas 73.
BC 2A Final Four: With equal parts hearts, and help-side defence, Britannia’s Bruins hold off STA for first finals appearance since 2012! https://t.co/bIWkm3vkps— Howard Tsumura (@htsumura) February 28, 2020
AND OH…WHAT A FINISH (video by Gabriel Lynn) @bruinsbball @langleyevents @bc2agirlsbball @bchoopgirls pic.twitter.com/67uxLxaCSW
STA had built its 47-36 lead on the shoulders of its two posts, the 6-foot-2 Jessica Clarke and 6-foot-1 Cutler who scored 39 of their combined 52 points in the first half.
Not only was their height a puzzle for Britannia, their ability to play off of each other, and to clean up each other’s misses made them an unstoppable duo.
Yet the unflappable Abatayo, headed to a university career next season with the Trinity Western Spartans, wasn’t going to give up with a fight, and to her, that meant drilling home a message to her teammates.
“I was telling my teammates, I don’t care if you get mad at me, I’m going to keep yelling ‘help-side, help-side,’ intoned Abatayo afterwards of the fact that her teammates, including forwards Lagi Vaa and Tiana Sacco, needed to take up space on the weak side of the floor where Clarke and Cutler took turns feasting on the offensive glass.
“I kept yelling, they started to pull through and it was good,” said Abatayo.
Added Bruins head coach Mike Evans of the fact that after combining for 39 in the first half that Cutler and Clarke had just 13 combined points in the second: “We felt before the game started the key thing was the weakside help. They had to arrive before the pass was made. They couldn’t wait for the pass to come and then make their move because by then it was too late.”
The cleaner defensive schematic keyed transition for easy baskets, yet Abatayo and teammate Munie also got a lot of that done themselves by combining for nine steals as the Bruins make their first championship game appearance since wining it all in 2012.
Abatayo’s triple with 3:25 left gave the Bruins a 71-70 lead, yet despite surrendering their advantage, the Fighting Saints still had plenty of fight left in them
Guard Caelan Prescott’s own trey with 2:41 left made it 73-71.
When Abatayo made one of two free throws, Britannia led 75-73 with 6.3 seconds remaining, but STA ran a great play inside, electing to force overtime.
Cutler’s game-tying lay-in came less than a half-second late as video showed the backboard lit to indicate the expiration of the game clock with the ball still in her hands.
“I’m so excited right now, I don’t even know what to say,” said Abatayo.
Abatayo finished with 35 points and 11 rebounds, while Munie had 27 points and eight rebounds.
Washington State-bound forward Clarke had 31 points and 16 rebounds, while Cutler had 31 points and 16 rebounds.
Munie and Cutler will be teammates next season with the Simon Fraser Clan, where they will be joined by fellowing incoming freshman Makenna Gardner of Langley Christian.
The Bruins will face the winner of the tier’s second semifinal between Langley Christian and York House.
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