By GARY AHUJA (Special for Varsity Letters)
LANGLEY — We have four teams left standing at the Junior Girls Basketball Provincial Invitational Tournament.
The first semifinal will feature the top-seed Oak Bay Breakers and the No. 5 Argyle Pipers while the latter one is an all-Eastern Valley battle between the No. 10 M.E.I. Eagles and the No. 3 Brookswood Bobcats.
No. 5 ARGYLE PIPERS 38 No. 4 HOLY CROSS CRUSADERS 36
LANGLEY – What do the last three Junior Girls champions all have in common? Their rosters are dominated by underclassmen.
In 2019 and 2020, the Terry Fox Ravens and Dr. Charles Knox Falcons consisted entirely of Grade 9 players, while last year’s champs from the Seaquam Seahawks had a mix of Grades 8-10 with the MVP in Grade 8 and Most Outstanding Defensive Player in Grade 9.
The Argyle Pipers are hoping to continue that trend as their roster of all Grade 9s finds itself in the Final Four after a dramatic last-second 38-36 victory over the Holy Cross Crusaders. Holy Cross was the No. 4 seed while the Pipers were the fifth seed.
Neither team was able to generate much offensively and while Argyle held a slim lead for much of the game, the Crusaders rattled off a 13-4 run to take the lead – their first since being up 6-5 – to go ahead 36-32.
Undeterred, the Pipers would score the final six points, and then got a big defensive stop to get the ball back with just eight ticks remaining, setting the stage for some late-game heroics as Isabella Miljkovic sank a runner in the lane with two seconds to play.
“Just put the ball in the hoop,” was how the 5-11 forward described her mindset on the play, crediting teammate Sadie Danks for a great screen which allowed Miljkovic to get free to score the winner, as she finished with a team-high 12 points.
Gillian Gonesto led the Crusaders with 11 points and Mila Wojciechowsk – who sunk a huge 3-pointer for Holy Cross’ final points – was named the Player of the Game, despite her team coming up short in the end.
Pipers coach Alex Gordon said they thought about changing up their defensive strategy for that final possession, but ultimately decided against it.
“It was pretty intense (but) they were very composed at the end, which was great. We didn’t want to change anything – what we had been doing worked all game. We were going to switch to man at the last second but stuck to our gut and what had been working all game and it came through at the end,” Gordon said.
As for the winning shot, it was a recently new play added to the team’s repertoire, with the only goal being attacking the rim.
No. 5 OAK BAY BREAKERS 55 No. 8 OKANAGAN MISSION HUSKIES 40
Ahead 18-5 after a quarter and leading by as many as 30 in the third, the top-ranked Oak Bay Breakers saw the No. 8 Okanagan Mission Huskies cut the gap down to two points in the fourth quarter, thanks to a 20-7 run.
It prompted a timeout from coach Aaron Frampton.
“We took a timeout, just to right the ship and give it a minute, but they have been really good at letting things go. We call it being a goldfish: goldfish have a one-second memory, so that is our motto, be a goldfish out there,” he explained.
Georgia Hadfield responded with the next five points – including a triple – to spark a game-ending 15-5 run.
Hadfield – a 5-4 Grade 10 guard — finished with 34 points.
“She has been our leading scorer for us all year and our best player, not only for us, but one of the best players for her age in the province,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised to see it, but we definitely needed it today.”
And now the team sets their sights on the school’s best finish since placing fourth in 2015.
“We knew that final four was a possibility. That was our goal to be final four and now we re-evaluate,” Frampton said.
BOTTOM HALF DRAW
No. 5 M.E.I. EAGLES 41 No.2 YALE LIONS 40
Just over two weeks ago, the Yale Lions defeated the M.E.I. Eagles in the semi-finals of the Eastern Valley Athletic Association playoffs, with the Lions going on to win the Zone championship while their cross-town Abbotsford rivals placed third.
On Thursday afternoon, the two teams met again, this time with a stake in the semi-final round up for grabs and first-year head coach Janelle Threlfall was asked whether it was a good thing or bad to play a familiar opponent.
“Yes and no. From the actual game point of view, absolutely, we know who their hitters are, who they are getting the ball to and who is going to be the shooter, but at the same time, that can also be a bit of mind game. We know who they are there is that little bit of pressure,” she said.
And the game was an absolute battle with the largest lead being five points with the Eagles eventually prevailing 41-40. It was the second straight upset for the 10th-seeded Eagles, who beat the No. 7 Duchess Park Condors – their second win of the game – to advance to the Championship Bracket.
“I am just so excited for the girls and the opportunity this season has given them. We have had a lot of up and downs, a lot of injuries, a lot of low moments and we are hitting the upswing at the right time of the season,” the coach said.
“Seeding, especially at the junior level, doesn’t say much. It’s all about who showed up and we showed up this weekend. (This win) is a testament to the girls’ heart, desire and passion for the game.”
Lola Reimer led M.E.I. with 13 points and Olivia Sidhu added a dozen. For Yale, Averi Currie scored nine points.
No. 3 BROOKSWOOD BOBCATS 56 No. 6 LORD TWEEDSMUIR 40
Once again the one-two Grade 8 bunch of Jordyn Nohr and Ashley Vande Ven was too much for the opposition. Nohr led the way for the Brookswood Bobcats in the first half with 17 of her 20 points, and when the Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers began throwing double and triple teams to thwart Nohr, she was able to maneuver the ball to Vande Ven, as the 6-1 forward took advantage by scoring 12 of her 21 points in the second half.
The result? A 56-40 win for the third seed Bobcats over No. 6 Lord Tweedsmuir.
“They have carried the way for us. They were doubling and tripling Jordyn today, so she just got it inside to Ashley. It is hard to stop them,” explained Brookswood coach Chrissy Nohr. “And we did a really good of everybody getting into it – points from everybody and really good defence.”
The victory advances the ‘Cats to the final four, where they match up with fellow Eastern Valley foe, the M.E.I. Eagles. Brookswood’s previous best finish was fifth in 2020 and they last won the whole prize in 2011.
Lord Tweedsmuir was led by a dozen points from Sammy Ma.
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