St. Thomas More's Demicah Arnaldo takes aim against the Walnut Grove Gators during Day 3 semifinal action Friday from the 2023 Tsumura Basketball Invitational on Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Gary Ahuja property of Langley Events Centre 2023. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Girls Basketball

SELECT 16 TBI GIRLS FINAL FOUR FRIDAY: Could this be magic? St. Thomas More’s out-of-nowhere 22-0 run stuns Walnut Grove Gators!


By Howard Tsumura

LANGLEY — The easy question to ask St. Thomas More Knights senior girls basketball head coach regarding the performance of her team now to wgames running: Is it magic?

“Yes, and no,” Cassie Lauang said after the Knights went on a three-point drenched 22-0 run to come from behind to beat the Walnut Grove Gators 51-40 in the first of two TBI Select 16 semifinals staged Friday night at the Langley Events Centre.

“Really, it’s effort. Sustained effort,” she said. “Even when things are not going well for my players, they try to create for others people and make it better for someone else.”

Stuck in a rut late in the third quarter and trailing 34-24 in what was a plodding, low-scoring game, the Knights fought through one of the ugliest three-point outings you’re apt to ever see and discovered their rhythm, all of this happening one night after a 14-0 run over the final three minutes of play carried them to a stunning come-from-behind win over the Churchill Bulldogs in the quarterfinals.

The catalyst?

None other than Grade 9 guard Demicah Arnaldo, who as part of her 14-point outing, stroked back-to-back treys to begin the surge.

Another followed from fellow Grade 9 guard Kyla Limon, then two more from Grade 10 guard Mackenzie Pagtakhan and from there, it was off to the races.

For the record, Pagtakhan is the tallest for the trio, standing 5-foot-5 and having three inches on the other tow.

“I think the girls get a lot of energy from big threes and it’s how we share the ball,” said Lauang. “Once the girls started to really penetrate the (Walnut Grove) zone they were able to find the weakside threes and then we were able to get them. We were cold in the first half, but we kept on shooting, and credit to them for that.”

For Lauang, the growth Arnaldo has show in being willing to take big shots instead of always looking for her teammates has been a big development from a season ago.

“That’s how she’s grown,” the coach said. “Early on, last year when she was playing, she was very unselfish. She didn’t realize that sometimes what we need is for her to make a big play, and for her to singlehandedly get us back in the game today… that shows a lot of maturity.”

The matchup between one of the smallest teams in the province versus one of the tallest in Walnut Grove provided an entertaining contrast in a game in which turnovers and missed opportunities were commonplace.

Walnut Grove rebounded the ball with dominance on the offensive glass, but were simply not able to convert those chance into points, despite their advantage in size.

Pagtakhan led the way with four triples and a game-high 16 points in the win. Limon added eight and Mia Beliveau seven.

Walnut Grove’s Lyla McKay feels the defensive pressure of St. Thomas More’s Avery Brown during Day 3 semifinal action Friday from the 2023 Tsumura Basketball Invitational on Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Gary Ahuja property of Langley Events Centre 2023. All Rights Reserved)

Also huge in the game was STM’s undersized 5-foot-8 Grade 11 forward Grace Haffner, who may have only tallied three points on the day, but at a juncture of the game when the offence was finding its feet and the defence needed to be as disruptive as possible, she seemed hard to miss inside and the figurative wrench Lauang was throwing the Gators’ posts.

“She is a beast because Grace Haffner does one thing really well,” said Lauang who prefaced that “one thing” with a laundary list of other qualities. “She’s as tough as nails, she knows her role, she’ll get those bunnies here or there, but she has a nose for the ball and when it comes off the rim, she could probably take two people out on her way to it.”

Haffner did just that over the late going on a day when her taller teammate, 5-foot-11 Avery Brown, picked up a some early fouls.

Both, however, were essential in the win as the Gators were using a rotation of three 6-foot-2 players and another at 6-feet. And both will have to bring their best if STM is to triumph in Saturday’s 3 p.m. Select 16 championship final against the winner of the MEI-Holy Cross game staged later Friday.

Grade 11 forward Lyla McKay led the Gators with 15 points, senior forward Kyanna Knodel added a dozen and senior guard Anna Koo a further eight points.

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