The Celtics' floor general Riley Santa Juana sizes up the Vancouver College Fighting Irish on Monday in the B.C. junior boys Final Four at the LEC. (Photo by Ryan Molag property Langley Events Centre-TFSE 2024. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

“He’s our heart and soul” St. Pat’s coach says of Riley Santa Juana, who lifts St. Celtics past Van College Irish and into B.C. junior boys final!

LANGLEY — An injury kept Riley Santa Juana from doing one of the things he does the very best.

Yet in a magical season of overcoming adversity, the 6-0 Grade 10 guard with East Vancouver’s St. Patrick’s Celtics never let it hold him back when it mattered most on the floor Monday night at a standing-room-only B.C. junior boys Final Four gathering held at the Langley Events Centre’s South Court Gym.

Santa Juana’s jumper with 8.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter came out on top over the shot clock buzzer, and the heaven-sent heave lifted the No. 3-seeded Celtics past the No. 2-seeded Vancouver College Fighting Irish and into Tuesday’s 7 p.m. championship final against Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens.

No. 5-seeded Terry Fox beat Victoria’s No. 1 Oak Bay Bays 49-42 in the night’s second semifinal.

“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” said St. Pat’s head coach John Boateng. “He leads by example. He has been through so much this year with injuries. He couldn’t shoot for half the year with his right hand and only lately he’s been feeling okay. He’s battled through all that. He is just an example of what perseverance is all about.”

Credit the St. Patrick’s defence, which held the Fighting Irish to just a pair of made field goals and 10 total points in the fourth quarter.

The Irish led 38-34 at the break, and Santa Juana headed to the locker room with a single point to his credit. He then proceeded, in a very low-scoring game, to score 18 of his 19 points in the second half, including 13 of the team’s 15 fourth-quarter points.

Vancouver College led 27-15 over the early stages of the second quarter, but it was uncanny how many times Santa Juana, who for so long was too hurt to be a jump-shooting threat, wound up making so many of the game’s  biggest buckets.

With 3:17 left in the third quarter, he pulled up off a dead run in transition and floated home a three-pointer to tie the score 46-46.

With the Celtics moving the ball seamlessly in the half court, Santa Juana stepped into another trey, this one pulling his team on top 54-52 with 6:20 left.

And then ahead of his eventual winning shot, Santa Juana, with 4:05 left, put his intimidating frame into high gear with a baseline drive for a lay-up and a 57-56 St. Pat’s lead.

“Our whole motto all season was have faith, today we just had to have faith,” added Boateng, “We had two of our guys foul out and we just kept fighting and believing, and thank God we pulled it through.”

Vancouver College head coach Siamak Salehi was classy in defeat.

“They fought hard, they played through adversity, they kept battling  the whole time, some bounces just didn’t go our way today and unfortunately we couldn’t finish it off the way we wanted to,” he said of his players, adding “I think they did a great job on defence on that last possession. It just didn’t go our way.”

Grade 9 Celtics off-guard Jericho Labrador was the star of the Celtics first two quarters, hitting three threes as part of 16 point-half. He was held scoreless in the second half.

Jaiden Quan added 11 and Heracles Mai 10 as part of a balanced offensive attack.

John Anthony led Vancouver College with 17 points, while Nathan Chen with 14, Winson Del Rosario with 12 and Lucas Tan-Ngo with 11 also broke double-figures in the loss.

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