LANGLEY — In their senior seasons, on the province’s two best teams, and now, facing each other in the final game of their respective high school basketball careers.
Go on, say it: Today is the day for Ty Rowell vs. Mason Bourcier.
It may be an over-simplification, and it’s not meant as any slight to a pair of extremely talented teams.
But when the No. 1-ranked Walnut Grove Gators of Langley clash tonight with the No. 2-ranked, defending B.C. champion Kelowna Owls, the marquee will shine brightest on our pair of protagonists.
Two extremely talented scoring guards, each with the ability to put a team on their back.
Unfortunately, there is only one trophy to hoist.
And on Final Four Friday, it was amazing to see how both got off to slow starts, yet both shook off their cold spells and went on to play central roles in their teams’ semifinal victories.
Rowell started off 1-for-11 from the field, finished 6-of-11, scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as the Gators overwhelmed Surrey’s Holy Cross Crusaders 90-58.
Bourcier started off shooting 1-for-12 from the field, closed on an 11-of-18 spree and scored 41 points in his team’s tighter 86-74 win over Vancouver Island champion Oak Bay.
For the fifth time this season, the pair face each other.
The Gators are 4-0.
But after cruising past the Owls in the final of December’s Tsumura Basketball Invitational, the last three have been within a pair of possessions.
“It’s a treat, a basketball treat, a Christmas present so to speak, if you like to watch two of the very best guards go head-to-head,” said Walnut Grove head coach George Bergen.
My, my. Can we wait?
And exactly who is the pressure on tonight (8:15 p.m., Langley Events Centre)?
“It’s a championship game,” says Bergen. “I think the pressure is on both teams. Having won four meetings, I think it puts us in a spot. But we have played all year with that mark on our back and I don’t think this is going to be any different.”
Says Kelowna head coach Harry Parmar on Friday night: “(Walnut Grove) looked awesome tonight.
“But you know what? A year ago, who would have expected us to be here again, losing seven of our top eight (players)? Tomorrow? I get to relax. The pressure is off. They have been kicking our ass all year long. What do we have to lose tomorrow?
“But if we play loose enough, we’ve got nothing to lose, and we know we can play hard and do what we do: Play Owls basketball.”
Holy Cross brought incredible early energy, built a lead of as many as six points in the opening quarter, and were locked in a 21-21 tie after 10 minutes.
That was about the span of time in which Rowell struggled.
Yet the differences on this night showed just why the Gators have lost just once against B.C. competition this season.
Walnut Grove’s bench — with Luke Adams, Azino Tyrell Urefe and Alisdair Coyle — was more than competent enough in the absence of starting post Jake Cowley (ankles) that the machine just kept rolling.
And, guard James Woods, whose leap to the elite status amongst players on title-contending teams is the greatest of any player in BC this season, scored 31 points.
Grade 11 kid. Tough as nail. Shot maker.
That’s who he is.
Things were going so well for Walnut Grove on Friday that during the second half, that when Woods was shocked to see the shot clock at four seconds, that he simply threw up a three-pointer and swished it home.
Double-doubles from Andrew Goertzen (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Rowell, 18 points from Brett Christensen.
It all added up to a game whose margin of victory would have led you to believe the team wasn’t missing its most dangerous front court threat.
But after the game, Bergen confirmed that Cowley will not play Saturday.
“It’s both ankle, OK?” said Bergen. “He rolled the right ankle in the Fraser Valleys, then he rolled the left one here (Thursday against Kitsilano). It’s awful. There is nothing worse for a kid that wants to play.”
Added Rowell: “We went through a lot of adversity losing one of our best players in Jake Cowley. It put a chip on our shoulder because we know he wants to play and so we had to make sure we got this win for him.”
Holy Cross got 13 points and 14 rebounds from Marcus Browne. Uyi Ologhola and Gabe Takeawoa added 11 each and Ian Park 10 points and eight rebounds.
In addition, starting point guard Keegan Konn, shelved by a torn ACL in midseason, came onto the floor late and although he missed on three jump shots while wearing a heavy knee brace, dished for an assist and was able to claim minutes on the floor on the championship side of the draw in his senior season.
In the Kelowna camp, Bourcier and centre Owen Keyes (21 points, 10 rebounds) were so effective between the second and third quarters that from late in the second to early in the fourth, the Owls had gone from six down to 17 ahead, a 23-point swing.
“Owen Keyes has just kept getting better,” said Bourcier. “He has a great work ethic, he is team guy first and it shows on the court. He makes a big impact for us.”
Jaden Touchie, the Oak Bay point guard, battled foul issues and was gutsy as always on his way to a team-high 25 points , guard Diego Maffia hit six treys and finished with 18 points while forward Isaiah Romanow added 15.
Which brings us back to Saturday.
It’s the match-up the preseason rankings predicted as the 2016-17 finale just one week after 2015-16 season was complete.
“Is there anything better than a great high school basketball game?” asks Bergen.
Fans, today is the day. Enjoy it.
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