St. Patrick's Jovin Sunner measures himself for made bucket against the St. George's Saints during third-day semifinal action from the 2023 Tsumura Basketball Invitational on Friday at the Langley Events Centre. during second-day quarterfinal action from the 2023 Tsumura Basketball Invitational on Thursday at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Ryan Molag property of Langley Events Centre 2023. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

TBI 2023’s Final Four Friday: St. Pat’s attention to detail near clinical as final-minute heroics sink Saints, send Celtics to Super 16 title-game tilt tonight!

LANGLEY — We’re in the early days of another season of B.C. boys high school basketball, yet it’s never to early to hear coaches dissect performance via both passion and attention to detail.

Through tired and hoarse post-game whispers Friday night, that’s how two of this province’s most enduring head coaches summed up a heated all-Vancouver battle in the TBI Super 16 semifinals… a game filled with December errors yet played with a feeling of February fervour.

And in the end it, in a game in which there was just one shot sunk from the field over the final 4:14 of play, it all came down to a string of three consecutive takeaways by the St. Patrick’s Celtics over the final minute to preserve a 72-67 win over the St. George’s Saints and give the Celtics a berth in Saturday’s 4:45 p.m.championship final against SoCal’s Santa Margarita Catholic Eagles at the Langley Events Centre.

“Well, it’s East Van,” St. Pat’s head coach Nap Santos said of the neighbourhood in which his players hail from. “East Van, baby. Tough kids. They really want to work hard. They want to do all the hard stuff. They want to do it.”

Yet the basketball gods seemed to be tilting the court in St. George’s favour with 4:34 left in the game.

A blown dunk by Saints’ Kevin Zhong sling-shotted backwards with such arc and precision that it fell right into the hands of the trailer, Charlie McConvlle.

The latter was quickly fouled, yet after McConville made both free throws to tie the game at 67-67, St. George’s would not score the rest of the way, despite a myriad of high percentage looks inside the paint.

The reason?

“I think St Pat’s just played with more confidence,” said St. George’s head coach Guy da Silva. “I think we played a little timid, a little bit tight. We usually don’t play like that and even then it was a one-possession game.”

With St. George’s Kevin Zhong (left) in pursuit, St. Patrick’s guard Jacob Matabalos surveys the scene during third-day semifinal action from the 2023 Tsumura Basketball Invitational on Friday at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Ryan Molag property of Langley Events Centre 2023. All Rights Reserved)

Following the McConville free throws, St. Pat’s Ethan Santa Juana hit what turned out to be the winning hoop when he nailed a three for a 70-67 lead with 4:15 remaining.

“Coming down the stretch and it’s just the little things,” continued da Silva. “I was telling our guys to have attention to detail and discipline but first we don’t box out, they get a long rebound into the corner and it turns into the (Santa Juana) three.”

Neither team was able to score for over three minutes, but over that stretch it was St. George’s which enjoyed the better opportunities, and by a wide margin.

Yet with 1:04 remaining, St. Pat’s point guard Ryan Garcia ripped the ball out of the hands of a Saints player who had just grabbed a defensive rebound.

Garcia’s lay-up actually rounded out the scoring, yet there were still plenty of opportunities for St. George’s to make up the two-possesion deficit.

But with 50 seconds left, Jakobi Matalabos blocked what looked to be a certain Saints’ lay-up.

About 25 seconds later, Celtics’ guard Markell King-Collins managed to make a save deep in his team’s end of the court, leaving his feet along the sidelines and incredibly, radar-launching that save down the court and into the hands of the team’s go-to scorer Jovin Sunner, who was promptly fouled with 15.8 seconds left.

St. George’s still had fouls to give, yet the huslte play by King-Collins was huge because it gave his team possession in the front court and ultimately helped preserve the victory.

“The block kind of symbolized how we played tonight,” admitted da Silva. “Instead of taking it to the rack hard, we tried to float this soft shot up and their player just made a better play. So for our guys, it is a good learning experience. At least I hope and I hope we can come out of this with discipline and a little more of a toughness.”

With Lucas Butler (centre) and Dorian Glogovac bringing a double-team, St. Pat’s lead guard Ryan Garcia looks for an open teammate during third-day semifinal action from the 2023 Tsumura Basketball Invitational on Friday at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Ryan Molag property of Langley Events Centre 2023. All Rights Reserved)

Celtics’ Santos couldn’t hide his pride for both the block and the save, each of which spoke to the deeper underpinnings of work ethic he has tried to instil inhis players.

“We are always talking help-side (defence) and if you are there, how we can get those blocks,” he said of Matabalos’ effort. “Our guys are athletes. They can jump high.The can get up there.”

And he added of King-Collins’ save: “He’s long, and he gets his hand in there really well, so I told him ‘Get the ball for us,’ that is all we need. (So) he jumped, and in mid-air threw it to Jovin… so a great defensive play.”

Sunner, the team’s unquestioned go-to scorer, led the way again with a game-high 30 points. Both he and Santa Juana hit three triples apiece, Santa Juana finishing with 16 points.

Metalabos added 10 and Danny Geppert nine.

Dorian Glogovac had 17 points, Lucas Butler 14 including four treys, and McConville 11.

When asked about the propect of facing the massively-favoured Santa Margarita team in tonight’s final, Santos let out a deep breath.

“They are big, they play their positons really well,” he began. “They are very unselfish with the ball, they push it nice, they rim run. It’s going to be fun.”

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