LANGLEY — It was the shot his coach had told him not to take.
But in the end, it was the shot for his teammates and for the generations of greying men who wondered whether the day was ever going to come again.
Today, North Delta basketball fans have woken up to the realization that for the first time in 26 years, their beloved Huskies are playing for a B.C.senior boys varsity basketball title.
On Friday with just under three seconds remaining, and his team trailing by two points, North Delta guard Suraj Gahir banked home a deep three-point shot to lift the Huskies past Prince George’s Duchess Park Condors 62-61 and into today’s provincial Triple-A championship final against the Vernon Panthers (6 p.m.) at the Langley Events Centre.
It marks North Delta’s first title-game appearance since 1993, and gives it a chance to bring home its first provincial title since 1990 when stars like Chad Johnston and Mitch Berger led the charge.
Vernon beat Richmond’s A.R. MacNeill Ravens 89-65 (story to follow) in the first semifinal.
Gahir had moments earlier put up a three-pointer early in the shot clock which had failed to fall, and thus Huskies head coach Jesse Hundal had told his star to use his lengthy stride to drive the basket for a lay-in.
“He took the early three that went in-and-out,” said Hundal. “Then he said I’ll make up for it.’ I said to go to the hoop, but he saw the shot and took it and the basketball gods are with us.”
In the post-game celebration, Gahir, who finished with game-highs of 28 points and 15 rebounds, recollected on the moment in his career which made him decide to try to hit the biggest shot of his career.
“I took it because in Grade 9 (at junior provincials), I missed a shot against South Kamloops for the win, and Mr. Hundal (North Delta head coach Jess Hundal) said that we either go for the win or we lose,” Gahir said.
“This feels great because after the Robert Bateman tournament, after I hurt my ankle and we lost Vik (Hayer to a knee injury) everyone counted us out. Now we’re proving everybody wrong. It feels great.”
The loss gutted the Condors who had trailed by five points (57-52) with 3:04 remaining when Gahir made good on an and-one play after Duchess Park’s gutsy Dan Zimmerman had committed his fifth-and-final foul over a superb, game-long assignment to face-guard the North Delta superstar.
Duchess’ Caleb Lyons, the lean Grade 10 guard, would later hit back-to-back triples with 2:45 left (57-55 North Delta) and 1:32 left (59-58 North Delta) as part of the comeback.
Yet it wasn’t until the Condors’ Jackson Kuc hit two free throws, Duchess Park’s first two attempts from the stripe the entire game, that the Prince George squad had climbed back into the lead, this time 60-59 with 19.9 seconds remaining.
With 9.2 seconds left, Lyons made one of two free throws for a 61-59 lead, setting the stage for Gahir’s game winner.
The Huskies road to the Final Four win was by no means simple.
Lyons and Soren Erricson were excellent throughout for the Condors, finishing with 16 and 15 points respectively. Kuc added 13. And Zimmerman, the unsung hero of the game for Duchess Park, made every hoop tough for Gahir.
So much so in fact that Gahir was forced to the bench with 1:32 left in the first half after he picked up his third foul, all of the offensive variety as he tried to clear some space for himself off the dribble.
Afterwards, he admitted the tight defence got under his skin.
“After the third, I am not going to lie, my coaches had to calm me down,” Gahir said. “I knew that now, going on the attack, I had to be more cautious. It worked out.”
Added Hundal who sat Gahir for the final 92 seconds of the first half but started him to begin the second half: “We battled through it. He is a special player, man. He is a special player who when you need him to step up, it seems like 10 out of 10 times, delivers.”
While adopting more of a facilitator’s role over the first two games of the tournament to allow his ailing ankle to remain fresh, Gahir was in full attack mode Friday.
Arun Atker added 12 points while Ryan Cabico came off the bench to score 10 more.
All of North Delta’s B.C. senior boys titles have previously come at the top tier, in 1971, 1975 and 1990.
The late Stan Stewardson coached the Huskies to the first one, while Bill Edwards, currently serving as an assistant coach with the team, won the last two.
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