Referring to the W.J. Mouat Hawks as drama queens might not sound like a compliment, but in this case, it’s an accolade of the highest order.
The Hawks were at their best when the stakes were the highest, and their tough-minded performance yielded the first B.C. high school girls AAA basketball championship in school history.
Facing the Claremont Spartans of Victoria in Saturday’s title game at Capilano University, the Hawks built a 20-point lead late in the second quarter, only to watch the Spartans mount a gutsy rally to trim the deficit to three in the final minute of regulation.
But as had been their pattern all tournament long, the Mouat girls excelled at crunch time. After a defensive stop, senior guard Jaslyen Singh drove into the lane, drew the defence and slipped a bounce pass to Ashleyn Sarowa for a layup with five seconds left to seal a 69-64 victory.
“It was scary,” Singh said with a smile afterward. “We had a lapse when Claremont came back because we were playing individually.
“But the fourth quarter is always our strongest, because we know we have to play as a team.”
The championship game was a fascinating study in contrasts. The Spartans were most comfortable slowing things down in the halfcourt and working the ball inside to their star 6’3″ centre Shalie Dheensaw. Mouat, meanwhile, pushed the ball relentlessly in search of easy baskets.
Claremont started strong, building a quick 9-4 lead, but the Hawks battled back to take a 16-13 edge after the first quarter.
The second quarter was all Mouat. Their vaunted fast break was humming along as they took a 45-27 lead into the break.
But Claremont just wouldn’t quit. Their prowess on the offensive boards helped them to trim the Mouat advantage to 53-47 through three quarters.
With the lead slipping away, Hawks star forward Kayli Sartori took over the game early in the fourth, scoring eight quick points as Mouat rebuilt its advantage to 65-50 with five minutes remaining.
Claremont had one more run in them, though, and back-to-back three-pointers by Dheensaw and Shaylyn Crisp trimmed the deficit to 67-64 with 53.3 seconds left.
But the Hawks dug deep defensively, and Sarowa’s late basket set off the celebration.
“In the fourth quarter we got our second wind, and we did it,” Sartori enthused. “It’s so amazing, so surreal. It doesn’t feel like it actually happened yet.”
Sartori was named tournament MVP after racking up 27 points and 10 rebounds in the title game, while Singh and Katie Brink were first and second team all-stars, respectively.
“I’m so proud of them,” Mouat head coach Paula Thompson said. “This has been a long work in progress, years of training.
“We’re making history, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Singh’s effort in the final was particularly gritty, after she suffered a broken nose in the waning seconds of Friday’s semifinal win over South Kamloops. She tried a protective face shield in warmups, but decided to go without.
“I couldn’t breathe,” explained Singh, who resorted to stuffing cotton up her nostrils to prevent any bleeding. “My peripheral (vision) was bad, my shot wasn’t going in, and I thought I’d take the risk. It was already broken.
“I felt like nothing could stop me. I was more determined to go to the hoop, more determined to win the championship.”
Claremont coach Kim Graves lauded her team’s never-say-die attitude.
“Those girls never give up,” she said. “I knew they wouldn’t. When we went in at half, I knew they’d come back.
“I’m very proud of the girls.”
Thompson joked that her team had a bit of superstition working for them on Saturday.
“We have not lost a game this year in the white uniforms,” she said with a chuckle. “That was key.”
• The Hawks are the third Abbotsford team to win the AAA girls crown, joining the 1984 Abbotsford Senior Panthers and the 1999 MEI Eagles. Mouat’s previous best finish was second in 1985, when they dropped a 66-62 decision to Penticton in the title game.
• The Mouat senior boys open AAA provincials on Wednesday with a 10 a.m. tilt at the Langley Events Centre against the winner of a first-round game between Kitsilano and Fleetwood Park.