LANGLEY — The two teams ranked at the very top of the B.C. senior girls Quad-A Top 10 poll have done their part to help create a dream championship final here at the 2022 Tsumura Basketball Invitational.
And the best part of all?
The No. 1-ranked Riverside Rapids of Port Coquitlam and the No. 2-ranked Walnut Grove Gators of Langley each bring their own marquee superstars.
In the first of two Friday Final Fours, Walnut Grove’s Kiera Pemberton scored 40-plus points for the third straight day, this time pouring in 47 in her team’s 74-67 win over Double-A No. 1 Mulgrave of West Vancouver.
In the nightcap, Riverside’s Avery Sussex was commanding from her point guard spot with 33 points in the Rapids’ 70-53 win over Kelowna’s Okanagan Mission Huskies.
On our way to Saturday’s 7:45 p.m. tip at the LEC’s Centre Court complex, here’s our look at both games:
RIVERSIDE 70 OKANAGAN MISSION 53
LANGLEY — There was a darker undercurrent tugging uncomfortably on the emotional strings of PoCo’s Rapids as they tipped off against the OKM Huskies in the TBI Super 16 Final Four on Friday.
Earlier in the day, head coach Paul Langford had received word that his 5-foot-10 senior forward Alexis Hart had indeed been lost to the team for the season with a torn ACL.
In the aftermath of a what wound up a 26-point victory, No. 1 Riverside may well have played its best game of the young season, led by its Grade 11 point guard Avery Sussex for whom the description ‘cerebral’ is certainly true, but not at the expense of her uncanny, under-rated ability to get anywhere she needs to get on the hardwood.
“We got Alexis’ news today, so…” Langford said, pausing and holding back his tears. “Our kids fed off that a bit. She is so close… not a daughter, but like, it’s devastating. I cried all the way here. Sorry I am getting so emotional.”
There was indeed a sense of purpose in the way Rapids players seemed to step up Friday night, whether consciously or not.
While Sussex did her thing, scoring 15 of her game-high 33 in the second quarter and helping facilitate a main rotation which is starting to begin to round into form, there was a noticeable edge from the fellow ‘bigs’ Hart had been expected to re-kindle chemistry with this season, like 6-foot-2 senior Natalie Curley who had 16 points, and 5-foot-10 Grade 11 Olivia Wheatley who had seven.
Yet ask OKM head coach Meghan Faust what the key to Riverside’s success was, and she didn’t hesitate for a second. No one would have.
“Avery Sussex,” Faust said. “We had a lot of trouble stopping her. She has a nose for the hoop. She knows how to score and she has such a soft touch around the rim. It’s pretty fun to watch actually. She is a great player.”
Langford certainly agreed.
And as much as Faust, the opposition coach, said its fun to watch Sussex, Langford’s personal view has come on an every-game basis from his spot on the sideline.
“I tell everybody that I have the best seat in the house because Avery is a different player all the time. I don’t know anyone like her. I’ve had great players before, but she is different. She is unpredictable.”
A two-sport standout, Sussex’s time with the Riverside soccer team ultimately ran into conflicts with basketball, but in her last game in cleats, she scored a hat trick.
With all of those athletic qualities packed into her 5-foot-10 frame, the end result is ultimately a player who simply measures the temperature of game, and then heats up in any of the areas that give her team the advantage.
“I guess if I was going to compare her to anyone, it would be Courtney Gerwing,” Langford said, comparing Sussex to Riverside’s first bona-fide girls basketball talent, who later went on to star at Simon Fraser after playing for the Rapids in the early-t0-mid 2000s. “Avery has Courtney’s savoir faire, but she is probably a little better than Courtney was at this same age.”
Jorja Hart, the 5-foot-9 guard and younger sister of Alexis Hart, scored 13 of her 20 points in the second half.
“It was a tough one, Riverside is a great team and they played awesome,” added Faust. “I am just proud that our girls didn’t give up. I know that we have been in deep holes before and we battled back. So I am proud of that.”
For OKM, 6-foot-2 standout senior forward Kanani Coon scored a team-high 18 points, while 5-foot-10 Grade 11 guard Maya Andruchow had 11 points.
And what of the Rapids facing Walnut Grove’s Pemberton on Saturday in the finals?
“They are a big force and Kiera is unbelievable,” Langford said. “But I have’t even had time yet to think about her. I am going to think about our win. Going to the finals is pretty fun and its something we have been doing a lot of lately.”
WALNUT GROVE 74 MULGRAVE 67
LANGLEY — There is a consistency within the excellence of Kiera Pemberton that is stunning.
No way else to put it.
On Friday, the North Dakota-bound scoring guard put together her third straight 40-plus point performance at TBI 2022, helping her Quad-A No. 2-ranked Walnut Grove Gators to a seven-point win over the Double-A No. 2-ranked Mulgrave Titans of West Vancouver in the Super 16 bracket’s round of Final Four.
Six days ago, in what was a more decisive 81-62 Gators’ win over the Titans, this time in the final of the Quinn Keast No Regrets invitational in North Vancouver, she scored an identical 47 points.
On Friday in Langley, those points were needed more than ever.
An ever-improving Mulgrave team trailed 26-13 at the end of the first quarter, but started the second quarter on a 14-2 run to pull within 28-27.
The no-quit Titans later pulled to within 40-39 early in the third quarter, but that’s when the game clock struck ‘Kiera Time’ and Pemberton seemed to take off into her own personal hyper-space.
She sank seven field goals in the third quarter and seemed to score every time down the floor.
For Mulgrave, 6-foot-2 Grade 11 forward Eva Ruse scored 25, including 14 in the fourth quarter. Point guard Jenna Talib scored 22 including 14 in the second quarter (four treys). Guard Ava Wilson added nine.
Walnut Grove’s senior trio handled almost all of the scoring. Aside from Pemberton, forward Abby Adams added 10 and guard Tia Rowell nine points on three triples.
Rowell’s production bears examination as in last week’s No Regrets final, she stroked six triples, a number big enough to cause Mulgrave head coach Claude Leduc to tweak his defence heading into their most recent meeting.
“I think putting someone on Tia this week (was significant) because she had six threes last week and they took that piece away from us which chnaged their spacing,” said Walnut Grove head coach Rowell. “We had difficulty adjusting and so we tried some different things. Kudos to them for making it a difficult game for us.”
For Leduc, until the next time the two meet, the goal will be to do what no one else really as been able to do, and that is to not only limit Tia Rowell’s threes, but take Pemberton’s scoring down a notch.
“Our defensive scheme was all about that,” admitted Leduc. “We knew Pemberton was going to get her 40 points, but we didn’t want No. 5 scoring at all, and I thought we did a good job with that. Now we just have to figure out how to make (Pemberton) score less.”
Can it be done?
Last December, our TBI final saw an underdog Riverside team find a way to beat the top-ranked Terry Fox Ravens in what was to be a prelude to a classic B.C. title clash on the season’s final day.
One year later, with similar plot lines in the air, Riverside comes in the higher ranked team, and Walnut Grove that so-called underdog.
Pemberton and the Gators face Sussex and the Rapids… it’s not only the game which sets the tone early for what is sure to be an exciting 2022-23 season, but one that becomes the campaign’s dominant plot line.
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