Belmont's Daunte Nelson (centre) speeds up court while being fouled by Vancouver College's Cam Wright. Jack Cruz-Dumont looks on as the Bulldogs earned a berth in the Final Four against Burnaby South. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of
Feature High School Boys Basketball

Belmont, Burnaby South: How a pair of unlikely underdog dance partners punched their tickets to the AAAA Final Four

LANGLEY — Belmont Bulldogs head coach Kevin Brown was asked in the aftermath of a second day of bracket-busting havoc being wreaked by his team on the rest of the field here at the B.C. senior boys AAAA basketball championships if he foresaw any scenario where his team would still be in pursuit of the provincial title while his Victoria rivals at Oak Bay Secondary would not.

Of course that scenario was brought to reality following the stunning 78-68 win by the No. 8 Burnaby South Rebels over the No. 1 Oak Bay Bays earlier in the evening.

“I have no problem saying it, Oak Bay is the best team here and everybody knows it,” said Brown supporting his Vancouver Island brethren moments after his own team’s Cinderella journey continued to unfold.

Brown, of course, is giving Burnaby South full credit for their execution, their ability to withstand a rally fuelled by three-point ace Diego Maffia of the Bays, and there poise down the stretch drive of the contest.

Yet the truth of the matter is, Oak Bay was 26-1 this season against B.C. competition and they seemed to just get better as the season went along. They beat everyone is equally dominant fashion, yet one thing that perhaps worked in the Rebels’ favour was the fact that the two teams had not met this season.

“They had a bit of an off day, and Burnaby South just played a great game against them. They are a tough team.”

One day after knocking off No. 4 seed W.J. Mouat, the Bulldogs edged No. 5 Vancouver College 67-62.

And so now, in the most improbable of AAAA semifinals, the No. 8 Burnaby South Rebels face the No. 13 Belmont Bulldogs, the latter a team which not too many days ago, lost 105-56 to Oak Bay in the Vancouver Island final.

Talk with both Belmont coach Brown and Burnaby South coach Mike Bell, and in many ways they tell the same story, a story of how it’s taken an entire season to find that full sense of team, the kind needed to make any kind of determined run here at the LEC.

“This has been really tough,” Bell told reporters of his team’s overall season. “There are a lot of guys on this team that want to demonstrate their talents. We’re really deep and it’s been hard because they don’t get as much freedom as they have had coming up through the ranks. We have 10-13 guys that can play at this level.”

On Thursday, there were Rebels everywhere worth a mention, most notably attack-minded guard Noah Pastrana (14 points), and the frontcourt duo of senior Jusuf Sehic (17 points, 17 rebounds) and Grade 10 Sasha Vujisic (seven rebounds, five blocks).

Noah Pastrana of Burnaby South extends for a lay-in during his team’s win over No. 1 Oak Bay on Thursday at the LEC. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters)

Ask Bell further, and he’ll talk about the successes of Burnaby South teams below the senior varsity.

Talents like Jiordano Khan and Baltej Sohal starred for South’s Grade 10 team which won the 2017 BC junior title under current South assistant Cody Carmack. And there’s more of it on the way. South’s junior team was seeded sixth at the recent provincial championships before faltering in the second round, and were also ranked No. 1 in the provincial Top 10 at one stage.

“Those (younger) guys have been really humble, and we’re sticking together,” said Bell.”We all want to play together and we’re showing that we can and will.”

The Bulldogs?

Brown’s not saying he knew this was in the cards.

But he is telling the story of a group, like Bell’s, which had to battle through a period of adversity early in the campaign, then trust the system that the coaching staff was implementing.

“To be honest, we had a rough start and things were not clicking,” says Brown. “The guys were having trouble following what I wanted to do. But once we started to follow, we got good results and they started to believe. It’s been wonderful to see them executing our game plans.”

On Thursday, with Irish players Jack Cruz-Dumont (30 points) and Cam Wright (11 points) combining to take 52 of the team’s 80 shots from the field, Vancouver College wasn’t as varied as it was in winning its recent Lower Mainland title.

Belmont limited them to 28.7 per cent shooting from the field.

Bulldogs post Isaac Ickovich had 25 points and 11 rebounds for the winners, guard Nishad Tarak had 18 and Lucas Gage 10.

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