For three quarters, the Kelowna Owls gave the Walnut Grove Gators all they could handle.
The second-seed Owls led by as many as seven points in the first quarter against the No. 1 seed Gators in the championship final on Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre in the BC 4A senior boys provincial basketball gold medal game.
Walnut Grove would recover to lead by five at the half, but a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the third quarter — Kelowna’s 10 three-pointer to that point — cut the lead to one with 10 minutes to go.
“I think I said ‘we are going to do the same thing we have done all year. And that means we are going to put out more effort in the fourth quarter and they did,” said Walnut Grove coach George Bergen.
It also helped that the team switched to a 1-3-1 defence for the final quarter and the Gators would deliver the championship with a 78-65 victory.
“That little zone, what it did was help us control Mason a little bit,” Bergen said.
Bergen was referring to the Owls’ standout guard Mason Bourcier, who finished with 29 points and eight assists.
Bourcier would hit just one of six from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter.
“Team defence. We brought the 1-3-1 out — that is Bergen’s speciality — and it worked,” said Grade 11 standout James Woods, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player after 23 points, six assists and four rebounds.
He was coming off back-to-back 30-point games in the quarter-finals and semifinals.
The win was also revenge for the Gators after Kelowna had eliminated them in the provincial semifinals of the 2016 championships, on the Owls’ way to the gold medal.
And Walnut Grove’s Grade 11 players were also coming off disappointment last season, having lost in the junior boys provincial championship game.
“We had a chip on our shoulder and we put a lot of work in in the off-season, getting stronger,” said Grade 12 guard Ty Rowell, who was selected a first team all-star. “So winning means a lot to us.”
Rowell led the Gators in Saturday’s final with 31 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
The Gators two big towers on the inside — six-foot-nine Jake Cowley and six-foot-eight Andrew Goertzen — also came up big, especially on the defensive end.
Cowley was already dealing with a wonky ankle heading into provincials when he rolled the other ankle in the team’s first game at provincials. He didn’t see any action in Friday’s semifinals.
But he found a physiotherapist who was able to alleviate the pain enough to allow him to play. It was still so bad, that Cowley was grimacing in pain during the awards ceremony and when he hobbled to the ladder for his turn to cut down a piece of t net as per championship tradition.
“There was nothing that was going to stop me from playing this game today. My leg could have been broken but I was still going to play,” Cowley said about his last high school game.
He was limited to six points but managed to pull down a game-high 16 rebounds, including 14 on the defensive end.
“It was a pretty surreal experience. I have been watching this tournament since I was a kid and it was just an unreal experience.”
Goertzen, also in his final high school game, came up with four blocks and was a presence all game down low. He also chipped in four points and six rebounds.
“I knew offence wasn’t my role today, I knew I had to step up on defence,” said Goertzen, who was selected a second team all-star. “Everyone did their job.”
“It sounds so cliche, but I can’t put it into words. Growing up, we always came to these games and to be in the final and win the whole thing was so surreal. Just unbelievable.”
Brett Christensen chipped in with a dozen points, six rebounds and a block.
Kelowna had a great start to the game, scoring the first six points and leading by seven points at one point.
And for the first three quarters, the Owls actually led for 20:36 of the 30 minutes, with the Gators ahead for 6:05 and the rest of the time, the teams were tied.
The teams’ first meeting back in early December was a 21-point Walnut Grove victory, but in the previous three head-to-head games, the Gators have won by four, six and five points, respectively.
“(It is) extremely difficult, to beat a team five times, a good team like that is an extraordinary task,” Bergen said.
Kelowna coach Harry Parmar said the Gators were a great opponent and full value for their victory.
But he also felt his team let too many opportunities slip away.
“All game long, it was just the little things. We had things going and we would miss a rebound and let them get a run. Get things going again , miss a rebound, and let them get another run,” he said.
”The ball didn’t bounce our way.”
— Gary Ahuja (@garyahuja1)