Spectators squirmed in the stands on Saturday night as they watched a feisty Nanaimo team get hot late in the final of the district basketball championship against the Ladysmith Secondary Junior Boys and nearly steal the game.
Trailing for the entire game, the Nanaimo District Secondary School Islanders drained three treys with a minute left against the 49ers, who have been undefeated in league play this season.
However, LSS retained possession in the final moments to avoid any chance of NDSS hitting a buzzer beater as the home team won with a final score of 43-42.
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LSS athletic director and coach Daryl Rodgers said the level of talent on both benches meant the potential for a back and forth matchup.
“I figured it would be a close game in the final,” he said. “We played them two times earlier in the year and beat them by 20 (points) but I knew they were missing a guy and their shooting was off. I knew we could expect a much closer game this time and it was going to be a battle.”
Ladysmith led from the opening tipoff and went on a 9-0 run before finishing the first quarter with a 17-9 lead sparked by Reece Melnick, Russel Robinson and Eric Gueldenstern, who led the team with a game high 14 points.
The matchup intensified in the second frame as NDSS fought back to within one basket but still trailed 26-23 at halftime.
“We put a few things in practice that we thought might help us during the game and it worked for us and we got a few baskets in key times,” Rodgers noted following the win. “The kids have just been working hard and putting in the effort and it’s showing because they’re improving all the time.”
Robinson and Melnick went back to work for LSS in the third quarter for a combined seven points as the home team pushed their lead back to 37-31.
In the fourth, Gueldenstern drained a pair of baskets and Brandon Melsness added a third as LSS went ahead by double digits.
NDSS then decided to test its luck from beyond the arc and was rewarded with a quick nine points in the final 60 seconds but the baskets came too late as LSS came out on top.
A core group of the Junior Boys squad is from the Grade 8 team that finished 14th at provincials last season.
Rodgers said all players have been putting in the time necessary to be successful at a high level.
“They’re in the gym all the time, at lunch shooting around, and have a good basketball IQ,” he said. “We don’t have the tallest team so it’s all about that work ethic and putting in that time.”
The LSS Juniors now head to North Islands in Campbell River where they’ll need at least a top four to advance to the Island Championship in two weeks.
“We know there’s going to be good competition and a lot of close games,” said Rodgers, adding that the focus will be on staying healthy and polishing up on a few skills.