LANGLEY — The last time they met on a court at the Langley Events Centre, way back on Dec. 7 of this season in the semifinals of the Tsumura Basketball Invitational, the Holy Cross Crusaders took one on the chin from the Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers to the tune of 96-71.
On Thursday, after long-and-winding roads brought them together again at the sprawling Langley Township complex, the Crusaders were happy to have registered a polar-opposite result in the Fraser Valley championship semifinals.
The No. 5-ranked Crusaders (27-3) fought back a quartet of runs from their No. 3-ranked cross-city rival Panthers (29-7) before ultimately creating the separation they would need to post a 105-93 win and earn a shot at the No. 1-ranked Terry Fox Ravens in Sunday’s zone championship game (8 p.m.) right here at the LEC.
Afterwards, winning head coach Anthony Pezzente reflected on the difference one year has made from his 2017-18 team, one which didn’t handle a No. 1 preseason ranking very well and had to win a sudden-elimination game at the Fraser Valley tourney just to claim the zone’s seventh-and-final berth to the Big Dance.
“We learned a lot form last year,” said Pezzente. “Heck, we learned a lot from two-and-a-half months ago when we played (Lord Tweedsmuir) and got crap-kicked (at TBI).
“We have not played them since, but as you can see we have improved a lot as a basketball team.”
Clinging to a 47-46 halftime lead, the Crusaders built their advantage to 77-70 after three quarters before taking over in the fourth.
Grade 11s Uyi Ologhola and Brent Padilla led the team offensively, scoring 26 and 25 points respectively. Seniors Michael Risi and Jordan Bantog added 13 and 10 points respectively.
Austin Swedish, the Panthers’ heart-and-soul guard, took a hard fall to the court after contact in the paint and was forced out of the game early in the second half.
Swedish had scored 23 of his 25 points over the first two quarters and his absence was a blow to Lord Tweedsmuir.
Arjun Samra led the Panthers with 26 points, while Alex Le and Jackson Corneil added 14 each.
Pezzente’s Crusaders, who have beaten Vancouver College, St. George’s, Burnaby South, Kitsilano, Oak Bay and Kelowna this season, have twice been blitzed by Fox.
“They are phenomenal, a great team,” said Pezzente, “but we’re up for the challenge.”
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