LANGLEY — Vernon Secondary is a lot larger than the fictional Hickory High depicted in the definitive hoops-underdog movie Hoosiers.
Yet the Panthers senior girls team which began play Wednesday here at the Langley Events Centre bears one striking similarity: A tiny roster, theirs consisting of only seven players.
Despite their challenging roster number, however, the Okanagan champs have run the gauntlet all the way to Saturday’s Telus Double A provincial final, its fourth-quarter surge in Friday’s Final Four enough to produce a 73-66 win over the Fraser Valley champion and tourney No. 2-seeded Langley Christian Lightning.
The Panthers will face North Vancouver’s No. 1-seeded Seycove after the Seyhawks mounted a late run of their own to hold off the South Kamloops Titans 67-60 in the day’s other semifinal game.
“The girls are tough as nails,” said Panthers head coach Lonny Mazurak. “We’ve shown up with five for a game. They are warriors, so mentally and physically tough. They play a lot of minutes so they are used to it.”
Small in numbers but not lacking in size and strength, Vernon got exceptional performances in the court’s dirty areas, led by the play of Grade 12 post-forward Brianna Falk (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Grade 11 guard-forward Mackenzie Horst (15 points, eight rebounds).
As part of a late surge that created victorious separation for the Panthers, Falk powered her way to the basket and completed a three-point play from the stripe, and Horst followed by hitting a tough jumper in traffic along the baseline.
The back-to-back buckets defined the tough-nosed play so necessary by the Panthers to hold back a deep-and-dangerous Lightning team which was contending for the title after moving up following a B.C. title at Single A last season.
“They are two big, strong kids down there,” said Mazurak. “The pressure (from Langley Christian) was good up top in their zone (defence) and they were taking away our three-point shooting. So it was nice to have a couple of options down there, from players who can take a hit and finish.”
There was also talented senior guard Megan Roualt.
The player most schemed for by opposition defences, Roualt was jammed into 5-of-16 shooting, but still finished with 18 points and four steals, her most clutch play coming down the stretch drive of a game in which she hit on five of her final six free throws, all in the final few minutes, and finished 6-of-7 overall.
“That young lady,” said Mazurak. “Ice in her veins.”
Kelsey Falk, a 5-foot-10 Grade 10 forward, may well end up being the most talented of the bunch. She finished with 19 points and six rebounds.
Guards Emilia Durfield and Kelsey Watts, and post Megan Wiebe also saw time on the floor.
Langley Christian, which led by as many as six point in the first half, and carried a 50-48 lead into the fourth quarter, got 21 points and 13 rebounds from Katelyn Mallette, 16 from Liesl van Wyk, and 12 from Grade 9 guard Makenna Gardner.
Saturday’s 4:45 p.m. title clash with Seycove will be the Panthers’ first battle with the 2016 finalists.
Vernon has never won a B.C. girls senior varsity basketball title.
It lost in the 2013 B.C. Double A final to Holy Cross, the last season the tourney was played in Kamloops. It also lost in the 1982 Triple A championship to Penticton.
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