Walnut Grove's Jessica Wisotzki (9) is congratulated by teammate Tavia Rowell on Saturday as the LEC hosted the championship finale of the 2017 Tsumura Basketball Invitational. (Wilson Wong photo/UBC athletics)
Feature High School Girls Basketball

TBI 2017: Nobody beats the Wiz! New star born in Gator Country, as Jess Wisotzki scores 41 in Walnut Grove’s title finale win over Abby

LANGLEY — In the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy wanted to get back to her most familiar and comfortable place, she put on her ruby red slippers and uttered the famous line “Click your heels together three times and say ‘There’s no place like home’ and you’ll be there.”

Jessica Wisotzki didn’t have the slippers, yet she might as well have clicked the heels of her basketball sneakers together and made a similar chant in the moments leading up to the performance of her young career because once she stepped onto the court at the Langley Events Centre, she carried herself like she owned the place.

The rising fortunes of the Walnut Grove Gators’ talented Grade 11 shooting guard reached something of an early-season zenith Saturday evening in the final of the 2017 Tsumura Basketball Invitational.

Turning the court into her version of the yellow brick road, Wisotzki scored a career-high 41 points, carrying the No. 1-ranked Gators to a 75-65 win over the No. 5 Abbotsford Panthers.

In fact she hit so many clutch shots down the stretch drive of a game that was drum-tight for its first three-and-a-half quarters, all you could say was ‘Nobody beats the Wiz.’

Or should that be Wis?

The star of the night, Jess Wisotzki, admitted in the post-game, that she has always strived to push her game to new limits. (Wilson Wong/UBC athletics photo)

“I thought she was going to get there, but I thought that maybe it would be next year before she became that consistent 30-point scorer,” said Gators’ head coach Darren Rowell of Wisotzki who was named the tournament MVP. “I always thought the sky was her limit, but the part I didn’t know was that it was going to happen this quick.”

In one of the TBI’s two Saturday semifinals, Walnut Grove’s 96-80 win over the Semiahmoo Totems, Wisotzki scored a game-high 32 points and went 10-for-10 from the charity stripe.

That game ended at noon, and eight hours later, she topped that performance, her 73-point day filled with fast-break finishes, second-chance putbacks and a most intuitive sense of how to score the basketball in the tightest of windows.

“I have always strived to be a great player,” she admitted afterwards, “and so I have just continued to work on my game, and after tonight I feel like I am starting to get to the place where I can begin to show that.”

Saturday’s title tilt was not a game for any player faint of heart.

From the opening tip, against an Abbotsford team that has set the bar for playing hard, it was attack or be attacked.

And with both teams well aware of the combative hand-to-hand nature of every possession, there was a near March Madness-like feel to the proceedings.

The game was tied 57-57 with about five minutes remaining, keeping with the theme of an incredibly evenly-played contest to that point.

Jessica Wisotzki drives past Abby’s Beryl Kithinji to score a bucket Saturday in the TBI final at the LEC. (Wilson Wong/UBC athletics)

But with 3:51 remaining, Walnut Grove’s talented point guard Tavia Rowell, who last season announced herself as that 30-point-a-game talent, threaded a perfect pass along the baseline to Wisotzki who scored in traffic, was fouled and completed the three-point play from the stripe to give her team a commanding lead at 65-59.

From that stage forward, Abbotsford’s will to rally seemed compromised, and the Gators went on a 10-3 run before the Panthers’ Marin Lenz hit a late trey to wrap up the scoring.

“Jess has incredible hands and every time she touches it there is a good chance it’s going in the basket,” added coach Rowell. “She has gotten so much more tenacious with her rebounding, and now she is getting those second-chance put-backs.”

Abbotsford’s Grade 10 guard Marin Lenz shone for her team in defeat, scoring 30 points against Walnut Grove in the TBI finale at the LEC. (Wilson Wong/UBC athletics)

Yet it can’t be stressed enough how impressive the Grade 10 Lenz was and the fact that she was the likely tournament MVP should her team have won the game.

While older sister Sienna, the SFU bound senior who is returning from knee surgery, had her minutes restricted, Maren was a dervish, soaring up the court, attacking any seams in the defence and just generally serving as her team’s most consistent offensive threat.

On Saturday, she scored a team-high 30 points. Sienna Lenz added 18, Beryl Kithinji eight and Sydney Fetterly seven.

Rowell was a masterful passer all night, and also added 14 points in the win. Ro Taylor added nine and Natalie Rathler seven for the winners.

“It was a great experience for us to play on this floor, the only chance before you might get another (at the BC’s) in March,” said Abby coach Lenz of the TBI’s Langley Events Centre home.

“But we just weren’t able to contain Jessica tonight,” he continued. “I thought we did a good job to contain Tavia, but Jess was just too much on both ends of the floor. She did the job defensively, she ran the floor, and hit inside and out.”

The emergence of Wisotzki makes the Gators a much more dangerous team, with foes not able to consistently throw all of their defensive eggs straight at Tavia Rowell.

“She is awesome and when I throw the ball, she can catch it,” Tavia Rowell said of Wisotzki. “She has such great hands, and I have really loved being able to play and to grow with her. I don’t have to have the ball in my hands all the time. She is someone I depend on and someone I trust.”

The Grade 9-dominated Totems of Semiahmoo placed third, getting 26 points from Izzy Forsyth and 17 more from Tara Wallack in an impressive 78-74 win over PoCo’s Riverside Rapids, who were led by the game-high 27 points of another Grade 9 star, guard Sammy Shields.

The Rapids got 19 from Jessica Parker and 16 from Tessa Burton, both Grade 11s.

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