Ladysmith Secondary’s back-and-forth rivalry this season with the Highland Raiders came to a boiling point in the final of the AA North Island Basketball Championship on Saturday with the local team making key passes and winning battles in the paint to come out on top.
The Raiders initiated a full-court press against the gritty 49ers team with three minutes left on the clock as they trailed by 10 points.
“I was telling them to settle it down because they started to press us and we were throwing the ball away,” LSS head coach Matt Rickett said he explained to his players during a timeout late in the game.
“I just told them, we have a press break, everybody go to their spots and it worked really well for us.”
Facing each other already twice throughout the season, the 49ers and the Raiders had split the games by a mere six points on each occasion.
However, in the final Ladysmith used their quick speed and controlled ball handling skills in the finals seconds to avoid any costly turnovers and win the championship game 80-72.
LSS thumped Timberline in the opening game 78-43 to reach the final. Highland Secondary of Comox was equally impressive in beating Kwalikum.
“I told the boys we’d do the same thing we did in our first game, just swing the ball around, make sure we’re making good passes and hitting an open guy for shots and they seemed to do that,” Rickett said.
In the final, the 49ers Nathan Mrus led the team in scoring with 21 points, 14 of those coming in the first quarter as he hit four shots from beyond the arc.
Ladysmith jumped to a quick 31-22 lead and maintained the advantage into halftime with the score at 54-28.
Spencer Godlonton, Rhys Mazurenko and Carter Bouma each racked up six points apiece for the 49ers in the third quarter as the play started to turn more physical.
Late in the fourth, players on both teams were handed technical fouls after a battle under the basket.
The referees missed separate incidents in which a LSS player was shoved from behind after the whistle and another 49er who took a finger to the eye from an opposing player.
Highland’s coach grew equally frustrated on the sidelines, contesting foul calls and alleging in the fourth that one of the referees uttered “nice loss” at his bench.
Rickett said LSS has found success this season using a style of play that emphasizes a “pass and screen away.”
“Move the ball and get good shots,” he said.
The Senior Boys squad was 3-3 in league play this season and an impressive 9-1 in tournaments.
LSS now advances to this weekend’s Islands tournament in Victoria where they’ll be tested against strong teams from the south district.
Their first game is Thursday against Lambrick Park – fourth in the south island tourney.
Rickett said the squad is up to the challenge.
“This year we’ve really come together and we’re firing on all cylinders right now and the team looks really good and we’re looking forward to the Islands.”