LANGLEY — Welcome to Day 2 of the B.C. girls basketball championships from the Langley Events Centre.
To our treasured readers, thank you so much for all of your support on Wednesday, leaning on us for coverage from the biggest game of the 2022-23 season.
Please come back here throughout the day for live game stories and photos as we update the quarterfinal round and set the stage for Friday’s Final Four semifinals.
TOP HALF DRAW
No. 1 WALNUT GROVE 79, No. 9 CLAREMONT 72 (OT)
LANGLEY — Everything Everywhere All at Once is the title of one of this year’s Oscar-nominated films, but it would also serve as an apt description of the incredible defensive effort put forth by the Claremont Spartans on Thursday evening as they came within a whisker of one of the most stunning Quad-A upsets in recent memory.
The Victoria-based Spartans had the top-seeded, hometown-favourite Walnut Grove Gators on the ropes for much of the second half, and owned a seven-point lead with just over two minutes left in regulation.
Superstar forward Kiera Pemberton and the Gators somehow managed to survive and advance, though. Pemberton, in the dying seconds of regulation, muscled her way to the hoop with four Spartans surrounding and made the layup, knotting the score 72-72 and forcing overtime.
The extra session was far from a fitting finish to such a competitive contest. With three starters watching from the bench with five fouls, the Spartans simply had no gas left in the tank – they were held scoreless in OT as the Gators completed the comeback behind a gritty 47 points from Pemberton.
“I thought we were in big trouble,” Walnut Grove head coach Darren Rowell said with a wry grin afterward. “They were so physical, and they owned the boards all game. They managed Kiera – I don’t know what her numbers were, but they made it really difficult.
“There wasn’t a lot of hope for us, and then there was a little bit of a spark towards the end. But I think the foul troubles (for the Spartans) were the ultimate deciding factor.”
In the first half, there was an inkling of an upset brewing. The Spartans threw a box-and-one defence at the Gators, with 5’7” senior Rory Rothnie putting in a tireless shift shadowing Pemberton, making her life difficult at every turn. It’s a tribute to Pemberton’s greatness that she was still able to rack up 21 points in the half, but it was Claremont taking the lead to the locker room behind 20 points from their Grade 10 standout Iva Kalabric.
In the second half, every time the Gators appeared poised to restore order, the Spartans would answer with a surge of their own. More often than not, it was senior point guard Adia Pye finding a way to score, whether through tough drives into the paint or shots from beyond the arc.
Walnut Grove drew level at 56-56 early in the fourth, but Claremont responded with a 7-0 run capped by a Carys Clarke triple.
With just over two minutes left, Pye drove and got an and-one layup to drop; after the free throw, it was 69-62 for the Spartans.
Attrition took its toll on Claremont down the stretch, though – Rothnie fouled out on the ensuing defensive possession, and Kalabric and Pye followed her to the bench after each picking up their fifth foul late in regulation.
Pemberton would take advantage, scoring eight points in the final minute – including six points from the charity stripe – to force OT, and the Gators steered it safely home from there.
“I’m super proud of our team,” Spartans head coach Darren Reisig said. “We had a plan to start, we stuck with it, and we deserved better than the result.
“Hard to get into some of those calls – pretty lopsided in the fourth quarter, but you can’t control that I guess. We played hard.
“We’ll get back at it tomorrow, shoot for top five.”
Pye was heroic in defeat, scoring 27 points. Kalabric finished with 23, and Clarke counted four three-pointers among her 16 points.
Kyanna Knodel, with 16 points, joined Pemberton in double digits for the Gators.
“Oh my goodness, their physicality,” Rowell said of the Spartans. “That’s a hard match-up for us, these really physical, big teams. They’re really good, they’re physical, and they’re tough.
“I think the spark was a little bit of our pressing. We’re not a team that typically presses, but we caused them some problems in the backcourt entering the ball. I think that energy carried over to both our defensive rebounding and some offensive stuff at the end of the game.”
TOP HALF DRAW
No. 4 YALE 77, No. 5 SEAQUAM 67
LANGLEY — You almost couldn’t have blamed the Yale Lions if, at halftime of their quarter-final clash with the Seaquam Seahawks, their minds had begun to wander towards a potential semifinal rematch with their arch rivals, the Walnut Grove Gators.
The Lions, at that juncture, held a cushy 44-24 lead and appeared to have their Final Four ticket well in hand.
The Seahawks had other plans, though – they managed a stirring rally that had the Yaleans sweating profusely throughout the fourth quarter.
The Abbotsford-based squad ultimately made enough plays down the stretch to secure the victory by a 77-67 count.
“When you get to 20, you feel comfortable,” Lions head coach Bobby Braich noted afterward. “But I said to them at halftime, no lead is safe in high school basketball! We just saw Walnut Grove come back when it looked like it was over inside of three minutes (left in regulation vs. Claremont).”
Samara Mason lit the fuse for the Lions in the first half on Thursday, draining four three-pointers on her way to 14 points at the break, and Yale appeared well on its way.
The youthful Seahawks – and their leather-lunged fans – came out in the third quarter with plenty of energy, opening on a 6-0 run. Grade 9 forward Camryn Tait led the charge, scoring nine points in the quarter to help cut the deficit to 58-46 heading to the fourth.
Sydney Roufosse found space to operate in the paint to help her squad gain more ground, and her layup drew the Seahawks to within 61-57 with seven and a half minutes still left in regulation.
The Lions, though, showcased their balanced attack at crunch time. Jay Hildebrand answered with an immense triple, Ella Bohn drained a trey of her own, Maggy Curtis converted an and-one layup, and Mason drove into the paint for a bucket of her own to restore a reasonable cushion for the Lions, up 71-63.
Seaquam had one last-ditch effort, surging back to within 71-67 with less than a minute left, but Mason coolly went 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the late going to seal the deal for Yale.
With eight seconds left, Braich called his last timeout.
“I said to them, I’m going to use a timeout just to tell you how much I love you, and I’m proud of what you’re doing out there,” he explained. “We’re going to be in the semifinal, and this is a moment you’ll never share again if you’re a senior. You don’t get a redo now.”
It should be noted that clash of student sections was almost as good as the action on the court – the most commonly spoken word in the gym on this night was “AIRRRRBALLLLLL!”
Both teams showcased balanced attacks. For the Lions, Mason finished with a game-high 22 points, Curtis scored 19, and Hildebrand added 18.
For the Seahawks, it was Roufosse and Nyssa Sunner with 16 apiece, Tait with 15, and Neelum Sidhu 14.
Friday’s semifinal clash will mark the fifth meeting of the season between Yale and Walnut Grove. The Lions own one win in the series – an 88-87 overtime triumph – but the Gators won the three subsequent matchups including a 71-65 victory in the Valley East zone final.
“Keira (Pemberton) has averaged 46.5 against us,” Braich said. “I haven’t had an answer for Kiera yet, and I’m not sure anyone in the province has had that. We’re not going in scared, but we truly respect what they have over there. They’re showed it again today – they’re a championship-calibre team. They’re No. 1. We’re looking up at them.
“Hey – it’s the semifinals, you’re going to have to beat somebody awfully good. We’ll take our shot.”
No. 3 RIVERSIDE 59 No. 6 KELOWNA 46
LANGLEY — Natalie Curley was the first to admit, it wasn’t her best night at the offensive end of the court.
The Riverside Rapids’ 6’2” centre was limited to just eight points in her team’s Quad-A quarter-final clash with the Kelowna Owls on Thursday at the LEC Fieldhouse, after averaging 14 points per game over the course of her senior campaign.
More importantly for the Rapids, though, Curley matched her scoring output in the blocked-shots department, rejecting eight Owl offerings and altering countless other shots to spark her team to a 59-46 triumph and a return trip to the Final Four.
When you’re engaged in a defensive slugfest, it helps immensely to have the most intimidating player on the floor.
“Honestly, in most cases, I think I like blocking shots better (than scoring baskets),” Curley said with a smile afterward. “This game, I wasn’t on offensively, so to pick it up on defence and to block shots . . . I can hear the crowd, and it feels like a burst of energy.”
Kelowna got off to an excellent start, racing out to a 21-13 lead at the end of the first quarter led by talented Grade 10 point guard Mav Chahal, who scored eight points in the frame.
The Rapids smothered the Owls in the second quarter, though, holding them scoreless for a seven-minute stretch. When Kelowna was able to find seams in Riverside’s full-court pressure or their half-court defence, Curley would materialize at the rim – a human eraser poised to thwart their plans.
The Owls hung tough throughout the third quarter, and were within 41-38 heading to the fourth. Avery Sussex, Riverside’s superstar point guard, took over from there, scoring 10 of her game-high 27 points in the final frame highlighted by a trey from a couple steps back of the arc in the dying minutes to snuff a Kelowna comeback attempt.
Afterward, Riverside head coach Paul Langford lauded his two difference-makers at opposite ends of the court – Sussex on offence, and Curley on defence.
“It’s everything,” Langford said, reflecting on how the SFU-bound Curley’s imposing presence in the paint influences her teammates’ ability to play aggressive defence on the perimeter.
“She didn’t have her best offensive moves today, but she’s a rim protector. It made them totally shoot from the outside, and we started to put some pressure on.”
Riverside Grade 10 guard Annabelle Neufeld counted four three-pointers among her 14 points, and Jorja Hart contributed seven points to the Rapids’ cause.
Chahal finished with 19 points, headlined by five triples, and senior forward Ryenn Schutz added 12 points for the Owls.
“Our kids are getting better and understanding that the game’s not over after the first quarter – we can still come back,” Langford summarized. “They worked hard and did what they needed to do.
No. 2 BURNABY CENTRAL 83, No. 7 OKANAGAN MISSION 74
LANGLEY — For 38 minutes, Jade Huynh carried the Burnaby Central Wildcats.
Over the final two minutes, it was her little sister who did the heavy lifting as the No. 2-seeded Wildcats narrowly survived a spirited upset bid from the Okanagan Mission Huskies.
The elder Huynh – a sharpshooting senior guard ticketed for the UBC Thunderbirds – fashioned an incendiary 37-point performance. Her last three points came from the free throw line after being fouled on an attempt from beyond the arc, giving the Wildcats, who had trailed for much of the night, a 75-74 advantage.
Yet down the stretch, with the Huskies’ defence understandably tilted in Jade’s direction, it was her Grade 11 sister Jayla stepping into the spotlight. She hit back-to-back triples, then added a pair of late free throws to singlehandedly account for her team’s final eight points of the game.
Add it all up, and the Wildcats are off to the Final Four for the second straight year.
“I was just super-proud of her, that she was able to step up when the team needed her and clutch up for us,” Jade Huynh beamed post-game, speaking of her sister.
“Provincials is such a unique experience, and we’re just happy to be back (in the Final Four) again.”
Burnaby Central, the Fraser North zone champs, got off to a solid start, leading 21-15 after one quarter, but the Huskies battled back to grab a 35-33 lead after Payton Friesen’s layup to beat the halftime buzzer.
Okanagan Mission continued to roll in the third quarter, extending the lead to seven points behind some inspired play from Grade 11 guard Presley Hopf, who scored nine in the frame.
The game appeared to be trending in the Huskies’ direction, but Jade Huynh wouldn’t let her team sink. She went supernova in the third, pouring in 19 points in the quarter, highlighted by four three-pointers.
The fourth quarter saw the teams trade buckets – and the lead – throughout, but Jayla Huynh’s late heroics finally allowed the Wildcats to exhale.
Afterward, Jayla said her crunch-time mentality was that “you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take,” simultaneously quoting both Wayne Gretzky and Michael Scott.
“Coach (Chris Ducharme) said to me, ‘Now you have to get in rhythm,’” she said. “Once he said that, I was just focusing in and knowing just to trust my shot. Even though my shot wasn’t falling in the first half, I had to trust it.
“It’s kind of like, fake it until you make it. If you see it and you believe it, eventually it can happen.”
Jayla finished with 23 points, and teammate Ankita Chopra had some big moments of her own in the fourth quarter on her way to a 16-point night.
Kanani Coon paced the Huskies’ upset bid with 23 points, Hopf tallied 19, and Faith Hunter chipped in with 17 for OKM.
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