Last week, when asked what his team’s goal at provincials was going to be, Sardis head coach Kyle Graves said something surprising.
“The team has chosen a top four finish their goal,” he said. “Make it to that semi-final game and see what happens once we get there.”
“Not winning it all?” your friendly neighbourhood sports reporter queried.
“It goes back to my old UFV coach when we were making national finals all the time,” Graves said. “His approach was just to make the finals, give yourselves a chance and let the cards play out.”
Friday night at the Langley Events Centre, the Falcons accomplished their main mission, tipping off against the Holy Cross Crusaders in a final four match.
But their provincial title hopes were dashed by the private school, which prevailed 73-68.
The first quarter couldn’t have gone worse for the locals, who trailed 22-7 through 20 minutes. Jonathan Kongbo led the way for Holy Cross with 10 points. The big forward was a rebounding machine, and absolutely lethal with his spot-up shooting.
Just 3:55 in, Sardis trailed 11-2, puncuated by Henry Maduabueke’s two-handed dunk off a fast break.
Graves was forced to burn a timout.
His team’s shooting was ice cold.
“I think it was a tiny case of nerves,” Graves said afterwards, nursing a hoarse voice outside the Sardis dressing room. “I only played a couple games in my career in front of crowds like this. For our 16 and 17 year old kids, they didn’t air-ball too many shots, which some kids do. We had a lot of missed layups that they normally put in.”
With big guns Hayden Lejeune and Eric Rogers both blanked in the opening quarter – how many times does that happen? – it was left to Cam Servatius to provide the offence.
He stepped up with seven points, but the Falcons faced a steep uphill climb as the second quarter began.
Sardis closed the gap quickly with Rogers leading the way. The senior led a 7-0 run that created valuable momentum. The dynamic forward led off with a three ball, then started slashing to the hoop. Grayden Northey stepped up with a long range bomb during a 16-2 run that got the Falcons within four points.
“I think it just clicked in their head that they weren’t facing NBA players,” Graves chuckled. “They were just regular high school boys that could be out-worked. We used our skill and teamwork to get back into the game.”
Sardis actually held the lead for a 20 seconds or so as time ticked down, but the Crusaders scored the final five points in the first half, and the first 12 of the second half, pushing their lead back to 16.
“In the first three minutes of both halves they worked hard and we didn’t come prepared to withstand the work ethic they brought,” Graves said. “I’m going to tell a lot of people I thought we out-played them for 35 minutes of the game, and that just happens sometimes in basketball. You can out-play a team, but they make the shots, get the steals and the turnovers.”
Sardis wasn’t going to climb out of the hole a second time.
They did try though.
Three balls from Northey and Kellington keyed a run that got the Falcons within five with 3:45 to go.
“If this had been a 42 minute game, we might have been able to catch them,” Graves said. “But time ran out.”
Crusader forward Jauquin Bennett-Boire held the hot hand in crunch time. With the game still in doubt he drained nine fourth quarter points, including four clutch free throws in the final minute.
He earned player of the game honours.
This was the last run for five Falcons – Lejeune, Rogers, Servatius, Northey and Evan Kellington. Graves had kind words for all of them.
“Those guys and the younger guys, they learned to come together as a team,” the coach said, reflecting on the season that was. “I always told people our biggest weakness was work ethic and intensity, and we answered all those questions with what we did this weekend. I’ll always have very good memories of this group.”
The other semi-final went to overtime tied 60-60. The Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs prevailed 68-66 and will meet the Crusaders Saturday night at 8 p.m.
Sardis and the Tamanawis Wildcats tip off in the third place game at 3:30 p.m.