LANGLEY — Welcome to Final Four Friday here at the 2023 B.C. girls high school basketball championships.
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No. 1 WALNUT GROVE 68 No. 4 YALE 55
By GARY KINGSTON (Special for Varsity Letters)
LANGLEY – As his superstar forward, Keira Pemberton, has continued to put up dominant 40-point performances all season, the biggest issue for Walnut Grove senior girls head coach Darren Rowell hasn’t been about getting her rest. Managing her minutes, or worrying about injury.
No, it’s how to come up with new and even more Thesaurus-gleaned superlatives to describe the uber-talented Grade 12.
Pemberton had 42 points, 14 rebounds and four steals Friday night as the hometown and No. 1 seed Gators advanced to the Triple A final with a hard-fought 68-55 win over the Yale Lions from Abbotsford.
Pemberton, who can spin and juke through traffic like a getaway car fleeing an Italian bank robbery, was absolutely brilliant in putting up a third consecutive 40-plus point performance at the provincial championships and in position to break the four-game tournament scoring record she set last season.
“She’s just so sensational,” said Rowell. “They do everything to stop her. They know her game inside out and backwards. She started slow, but she’s incredibly patient and she just wears people down.
“She grinds and she’s super tough and some of the shots she makes – she’s contested, she’s tough and somehow she still finishes. I can’t say enough about her quiet, incredible competitiveness.”
Pemberton did have just three points in the first quarter, when Yale jumped out to a 13-9 lead. But she had 18 in the second quarter and then was at the forefront of everything Walnut Grove did in the second half, crashing the glass for offensive rebound putbacks and muscling through double and triple teams.
“Her understanding of the game, she’s athletically gifted, but she can adapt to the game. And what starts as a challenge early, she finds all the cracks (in the defence) by the end of game. She sees things other people don’t see. It’s really impressive.”
Although she looked exhausted at times in the second half, Pemberton was her usual bubbly self after the game, almost laughing off Yale’s attempts to stop her.
“It was tough. They had, like, three people on me the entire game, someone fouling me in my face. But it feels so great now to be in the final. I’m so proud of our team.”
Walnut Grove built a 12-point lead at halftime, then stretched it to as much as 15 in the third quarter, but the never-say-die Lions kept battling back, closing to within seven at one point early in the fourth quarter.
But that’s when unheralded Grade 11, Kyana Knodel, a six-foot guard/forward, flashed some noteworthy defence by emphatically producing a pair of blocks. It was all part of a defensive effort on Yale’s Maggy Curtis that limited the Lions’ top scorer to 23 points.
Curtis made just nine of 31 field goal attempts as Knodel’s smothering pressure forced her into several very difficult layup attempts that either missed the basket entirely or clanged off iron.
“Those two blocks were big and she really held (Curtis) in the second half,” said Rowell. “She did an amazing job. She’s really emerged as a real star in the province for Grade 11s.
Knodel also chipped in with 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists.
“Defence wins championship, it’s a big part of basketball,” Knodel said with a huge smile when asked about her lockdown ability.
“I just wanted to try my best, work my hardest and see what I could do. It feels really great getting to where we are from the beginning of the season. So much improvement.”
Rowell said he was extremely happy to make the final given the parity in Triple A. To win it all would be a huge boost to the Walnut Grove program.
“It would mean everything. We’ve been right there (over the last few years), consistently outstanding. I’m proud of how hard they’ve worked and we’ll see (Saturday) what happens.
Jay Hildebrand (11) and Ava Heppner (10) were other Lions to reach double figures in scoring.
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