Unity Christian edges Panthers in thrilling basketball final

A last second buzzer-beater shot by Ryan Billstens helped the Unity Christian Flames to their first-even Fraser Valley title.

The Unity Christian Flames senior boys basketball team won their first ever Fraser Valley Championship banner on the weekend, beating the BC Christian Academy Panthers in a thrilling Hollywood-style finale.

The Flames, ranked third provincially, started their title run with a one-sided 96-28 win over an overmatched Agassiz squad.

UC then knocked off No. 8 ranked St. John Brebeuf, punching their ticket to the championship game against No. 7 ranked BC Christian Academy. The Flames split a pair of tournament games against the Panthers earlier in the season, and the rubber match shaped up the same way.

BCCA held a slim 30-28 lead at halftime, and 41-40 after three quarters. Back-to-back three pointers had the Panthers up by eight with 1:25 to go.

But the Flames stepped up the defence and came roaring back with 11 unanswered points. UC got four stops with the press defence and four baskets in transition to get within three with 37 ticks remaining.

The Panthers held the ball with the clock draining away, but they couldn’t get a shot off, giving UC one last chance with seven seconds to go. With 3.3 seconds left, senior Kevin VanRyk hit a clutch three pointer to equalize.

The Panthers panicked and threw the ball out of bounds, giving the Flames the chance to call a timeout and draw up a play.

The ball went to Ryan Billsten, who was left wide open to drop the game-winning three point shot, with 300 screaming UC fans going nuts at the buzzer.

Our parents and fans, all dressed in Unity orange, stormed the court and we celebrated for what seemed like eternity,” said UC coach Mike Campbell. “It was a complete blessing to see the parents jumping up and down with their sons. We are a small school, but nights like last night bring us all together.”

Billsten was voted the 1A tournament MVP. The six-foot-seven senior his 11 three pointers in the three UC games.

VanRyk was voted to the tournament all-star team.

Unity opens provincials March 6, entering the year-end tournament as the fourth seed.

They’ll open against the 13th seed Mount Sentinel Wildcats (Nelson), with the winner moving on to face the Immaculata Mustangs (Kelowna). The Flames lost 74-71 to the Mustangs in last year’s provincial quarter-final.

UC hosts provincials March 6-9 at the home of the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades, the Envision Athletic Centre in Abbotsford.

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