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Raiders finish ninth at B.C. basketball championships
Last week, the Highland Secondary senior boys basketball team capped off an eventful season by finishing ninth at the AA Provincial Championships. Highlighted by peaks and valleys, the season ultimately lead to a commendable showing at the school's first provincial tournament appearance since 1994. Coming into the tournament an unknown commodity, Highland left with commendations from fellow players and coaches.
The juxtaposition of Highland from other teams was never more apparent than the night prior to their first game, when teams were given a half hour of shoot around to familiarize themselves with the larger arena. Opposite Highland was Southridge, 17 players to a man, matching head-to-toe, performing precision shooting drills with one hundred made baskets their target. Highland - with just seven players to its name - elected for a more laissez-faire approach and played bump. Unfortunately, the remainder of the roster was predisposed to variety of other commitments made prior to earning a seed in the tournament. On face value, Highland looked be the first casualty of the 16-team tournament. Despite appearances, however, the boys had other intentions.
Highland (#10) opened the tournament on Wednesday morning against South Okanagan (#7). South Okanagan came out swinging, while Highland was unable to respond in equal measure and put themselves in a 15-point deficit early.
Highland held their opponent near-even for the remainder of the game but was never able to reduce the deficit, struggling from the three-point line where South Okanagan excelled. South Okanagan won 94-69.
Having to shake off a game they felt they could have won, Highland showed great maturity when they faced Delview on Thursday morning. Delview, having nearly pulled off the upset of the tournament the night before against R.C. Palmer (#3), were out to prove that they were better than their seeding implied.
With a high-tempo offence, Highland would have to have a break out performance to match. Highland came out strong with a 20-point first quarter and led by four points at half. Delview threw everything they could at Highland in the second half, but were never able to break Highland's zone defence. Highland won 70-65 in what was a much better team performance, highlighted on the defensive end with 69 rebounds to Delview's 41. Nick Tancon led all scorers with 34 points on 14/27 shooting. Spencer McDougall played a key supporting role off the bench with effective minutes. With their first victory in hand, the team looked forward to Pacific Academy the following evening.
Friday night saw Highland face Pacific Academy, a fast breaking team with speed to burn and a deep bench. Highland found it difficult to contain their fast break, as several players got into early foul trouble.
Highland rallied in the second quarter with some defensive adjustments to close out the first half with a tied game. The second half was a much tighter game, as neither team led by more than four points. With 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and Highland with the inbounds, the team ran a set play to run down the clock for the last shot. However, Pacific Academy's defence clamped down on Highland once more, forcing the game into overtime.
At the end of the the first overtime, Highland found themselves in the exact same position with 23 seconds on the clock and holding possession. In what was seen by many fans as a controversial call, Pacific Academy strongly contested the last shot, forcing the game into yet another overtime period. However, Highland would not be denied for a third time.
Late in the second overtime, Highland's defence won the day as they closed out the game with several critical stops. Highland came away, exhausted but spirited, winning 77-74.
The win was highlighted by standout performances from Sam Lewis, who contributed 18 points and played the entire game despite battling the flu in Jordan-esque fashion. Chris Dodd, Aaron Simmonds and Conor Luty combined for 12 points at critical phases in the game in addition to indomitable defensive efforts. Nick Tancon led all scorers with 33 points.
Highland fittingly and, perhaps, ironically closed out their tournament competing for ninth place against none other than Southridge, the very team they shared a practice court with days prior. The mood was a stark contrast from their prior meeting. Though still conveying their trademark aloof attitude in warmup, there was a appreciable undercurrent of determination amongst the ranks. Highland was determined to give a calculated, precision performance, despite having been on the court just nine hours previous. Southridge, however, proved equal to the task.
Having each done their homework, both teams forced each other away from their offensive strengths. Southridge's meticulous interior play was matched by a well-balanced shooting performance from Highland. The first half ended with little between them, as Southridge led by just two points.
At half-time, the Highland coaches made a few defensive adjustments in an effort to make Southridge adapt. Jared Collin, Highland's defensive general, proceeded to shut-down Southridge's interior play from the weakside with the assistance of Nick Tancon, who cleaned up with 19 rebounds. Not to be outdone, Chris Dodd followed suit by harassing anyone and everyone who hazarded to posses the ball.
This frantic pace, unfortunately, could not be maintained on offence, as Highland struggled to initiate on the other end. As result, Highland found themselves down by two with less than a minute. Tancon stepped up once more, knocking down a shot to force the game to overtime.
Finding themselves in a similar position to the night prior, the game was tied 53-53 with 13 seconds remaining in overtime and Southridge inbounding. On his strategy, Highland coach Murray Erickson said, "We decided to go for the win. We were coming off a double overtime win the night before and were not prepared to do it again."
Coming out of the final timeout, Highland set the trap hoping for a steal or a quick foul to gain possession. In a combined effort, Dodd pinned the ball-handler in the half-court who was then picked off by Tancon.
In hot pursuit, Tancon drove to the hoop bracing for contact. Making the layup, Tancon was also fouled on the play and had an opportunity for a three-point play. With six seconds remaining on the clock and no timeouts for either team, Tancon knocked down the free throw to go up by three. Southridge was unable to advance the ball out of their own half, sealing Highland's victory 56-53. For his efforts, Tancon was awarded with a second all-star.
Highland's season had humbling beginning, as they often found it difficult to field a team. To finish ninth at the AA provincial championship is a testament to the character and commitment of the core group of players who made this achievement possible.
Included in this group but not available for the tournament were Trenton Cameron and Liam Shaw, who made vital contributions at the AA Island championships to earn Highland its tournament berth.
Lewis and Tancon will be heading to the Island all-star game in April.
– Highland Raiders