SURREY — Danielle Gardner admitted her basketball team was taking a leap of faith in the offseason when the decision was made to move up from the Single-A tier it had dominated.
Yet if you watched the way her Langley Christian Lightning executed basketball’s version of a second-half sprint to topple their arch-rivals, Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies, in the Fraser Valley Double-A championship final, there wasn’t much to second-guess.
“This is amazing, utterly awesome” head coach Gardner said after her Lightning turned a 37-34 halftime deficit into a comfortable 68-51 win at Southridge School by turning up the second-half defence and holding the Grizz to just five made field-goals over the final 20 minutes.
“I am so proud of these girls and the journey they have been on,” continued Gardner of the Lightning, who had become a Single-A powerhouse with multiple provincial banners to their credit. “In leading up to making this transition (to Double-A) you never know how it’s going to go, but we were up for the challenge, and not this year, but for the future of our program.”
Both the Lightning and Grizzlies advanced to the B.C. championships beginning March 1 at the Langley Events Centre. Southridge, which beat Holy Cross 50-37 in the third-place game, is ticketed for a sudden-elimination wildcard game against St. Thomas More to earn a B.C. berth. Holy Cross does likewise against Kelowna’s Okanagan-Mission Huskies.
In a tight first half that had all the earmarks of a classic, the Grizzlies got 18 points from star Grade 10 forward Deanne Tuchscherer, who was battling against Langley Christian’s 6-foot-1 senior forward Katelynn Mallette.
Mallette was slowed by foul problems and finished with 13 points, but Langley Christian’s real strength on the offensive side was the depth of scoring it got from a deep core of shooters.
Hannah Krepp, the 5-foot-7 senior guard who scored a game-high 21 points, was on point over the late going. In fact she drained the game’s signature shot when she nailed a three-point dagger at the third-quarter buzzer to cap an frame-ending 11-0 run. She was lated named tournament MVP.
The game had been locked at 43-43 and it was a true pick ‘em contest until the Krepp-capped run made the scored 54-43 heading into the final frame.
“The third quarter, it got away from us,” admitted Grizzlies’ head coach Sarah Mouritzen. “We were really stagnant on offence. We couldn’t find our shot. They shut us dow defensively, but we stopped moving and that tends to be a bit of an issue for us. It’s the second time it’s happened against (Langley Chrisitian).
Tuchscherer’s ability to face the basket and play like a guard, and post-up with authority is eye-popping. She hit three treys in the first quarter. Yet as Mourtizen added, the young forward took the loss hard.
“She is a competitor and you can tell because she is in tears after this game,” the coach said. “She is a passionate, passionate kid and she is only Grade 10.”
The Lighting lead the season series 2-1 having now won the past two as the Valley heavyweight hunker down for a full week of pre-provincial boot camp.
But before that happens in Langley, Gardner was taking a brief moment to celebrate on behalf of her players and also to speak about Tuchscherer.
“Graham is a great competitor and Deanne is fabulous,” began Gardner. “It was such a battle at halftime and I said that to my team, that these are the kind of games you should want to be in because they are fun. But we showed mental toughness by facing adversity straight on.”
Added Gardner of Krepp’s MVP selection: “Hannah is a real leader for us and she hit key shots (five treys) and we had others, too, like Emma (Hansen) with steals, and Makenna (Gardner) with key rebounds. It wasn’t Katelynn’s best offensive game, but she always does so many other things for this team.”
Grizzlies point guard Jaya Bannerman added 16 points in the loss while Hansen scored 18 in the win.
Hannah Morrison was the only double-figure scorer in the third-place game, leading the Storm with 15 points.
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