LANGLEY — Irish eyes were crying, but if you’d seen just what transpired over the final 20 seconds of play in Tuesday night’s B.C. junior boys basketball championships, you’d understand why.
A Grade 9 kid named Irish Coquia drained the biggest shot of his life at just the right time, sinking a dagger triple with 17.4 seconds remaining, rallying the St. Patrick’s Celtics to an 82-79 win over the Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs in the first all-Vancouver final in exactly a decade as the 51st annual B.C. Junior Boys Basketball Championships came to a dramatic close in front of a sell-out crowd at the Langley Events Centre.
The 161 total points made it the highest scoring of the event’s 51 championship finals, and on his way to scoring a game-high 31 points and earning tournament MVP honours, the 5-foot-11 Grade 9 guard admitted that reality was a little but dizzying.
“Everybody on the bench told me to believe, that I got this shot,” Coquia said of his teammates’ positivity as head coach John Boateng designed a play during the team’s final time out to get him the ball at arc off a frontcourt inbounds.
With the Celtics’ trailing 80-79, Coquia got the ball right where he was supposed to and dropped a trey that barely rippled the mesh, falling through with 17.4 seconds remaining and putting his team ahead to stay at 80-79.
Afterwards, the fans stormed the court.
“It’s surreal, man,” Coquia said moments after the win. “Last year, it was heartbreak. We finished second at the provincials and I didn’t want that feeling anymore.”
In 2019, the Celtics lost in the Grade 8 B.C. championship final 63-61 in overtime to the Burnaby South Rebels.
This time around, St. Pat’s seemed to have an iron-clad will despite their stature as a largely Grade 9 team.
“We’re a second half team and we have been all year,” said Celts’ head coach John Boateng, the former Simon Fraser Clan guard. “I reminded them of that at halftime. We knew the moment we started to get stops, that we could come back and win.”
The Bulldogs, however, weren’t about to make anything easy.
Led by the 30-point effort of point guard Filip Subotic, and dual 23-point efforts from forwards Milan John and Ethan Baron, Churchill took a 40-28 lead into the halftime locker.
And when the Bulldogs opened scoring in the second half, they enjoyed their largest lead of the game (42-28) at 14 points.
Yet Coquia was incredible, answering with 15 of his 31 points in that pivotal third frame, including 7-of-8 shooting from the stripe.
Gradually, they turned the tide until the game became, in the fourth quarter, a dead heat.
“I said it before the game, it was going to be ‘last shot wins,’” said legendary former Pitt Meadows head coach Rich Goulet. “That is one of the most entertaining basketball games I have ever seen.”
Added Churchill head coach Rob Bayne: “Their guy hit the big shot and in the end, that’s what it came down to. I thought it was a pretty even game, but they hit the shot when it counted. I am so proud of these guys, though. They are crushed right now, but we’ll be back next year.”
Actually, for a while it looked like Churchill’s guys had done enough to win.
First, Baron dropped a triple to knot the game 77-77 with 30.8 seconds left, then Subotic got a steal and a lay-in for a 79-77 lead with 20 seconds remaining
Coquia, however, was not to be denied.
“He had had a tough tourney over the first two days,” said Boateng, who watched as Coquia fouled out of the team’s quarterfinal win Sunday against Lambrick Park with just eight points..
“He came up to me after that game, and said ‘Coach, I owe you one,’” said Boateng, who realizing there were still two more games left in the tournament countered by telling him “No, you owe me two.”
So Coquia went out and scored 29 points in Monday’s semifinal win over Walnut Grove before adding 31 Tuesday.
Consider the debt repaid in full.
Josh Bahena added 19 more for the winners, while Joey Panghulan scored nine points and Jornel Ursua eight.
On a team which starts three Grade 9s and has another in the main rotation, Boateng figured it wasn’t too much of a risk to get championship t-shirts printed up in advance which read ‘First Of Many’.
On Tuesday, they never got a chance to gather mothballs.
And lastly, what of the MVP’s unique first name?
A kid named Irish playing for the St. Patrick’s Celtics?
“My parents named me after their favourite song, which is Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls,” Coquia laughed, admitting “they added the ‘H’ when they realized they had a baby boy.
“I’ve thought about all of this my whole life,” he admits of his name fitting in lockstep with his school and his team’s nickname. “It’s unique. I guess it was always just meant to be.”
On Tuesday night, who could ever argue that.
If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at email@example.com.