The top Cats beat the No. 2 Cats in the final of the 12-team Robert Bateman Timberwolves Classic senior boys tournament in Abbotsford.
Trailing the No. 2 AAA Vernon Panthers by four with minutes to play, the top-ranked AAA team, Sir Charles Tupper Tigers of Vancouver, went on a 15-8 run and ended up with an 80-77 victory over the Panthers.
The final between the two top teams didn’t disappoint.
The Tigers came out roaring in the first quarter, and built up an 18-point lead following a 12-0 run in the second quarter. The Panthers, who have but one Grade 12 player (Thomas Hyett), chipped away and trailed by only eight at the intermission.
Vernon kept attacking and took its first lead of the game, 66-64, with four minutes to play. The Tigers came back led by tournament MVP Norben Bulosan, who hit back-to-back three-point shots to put the game out of reach.
“To be honest, they jumped out early on us with heavy pressure,” said Vernon head coach Malcolm Reid. “But we were able to adjust and we fought back to make it a great game in the second half. I thought our kids defended and in the end we were real happy. But credit to Tupper, they came up with huge shots and they won the game. I don’t think we could have done anything more.”
The Panthers proved they belong in the top echelon of the AAA schools. The tournament featured four of the top-10 ranked teams, including the top three: Tupper, Vernon and No. 3 North Delta Huskies.
VSS opened the event with a convincing 87-55 win over the St. Thomas More College Knights of Burnaby. Tournament all-star Isaiah Ondrik paced the Panthers with 31 points while Liam Reid added 20 (six treys).
In the quarterfinals, the Panthers took care of the No. 9-ranked G.W. Graham Grizzlies of Chilliwack 76-47 behind the stellar post play of Kevin Morgan, who finished with 24 points.
The win set up a semifinal match with the Huskies, who had been ranked No. 1 most of the season. The Panthers got off to a hot 18-3 start with Reid draining three shots from the parking lot early in the opening stanza. Delta battled back to get to within one late in the second quarter – but would never take the lead in the game. The Panthers would eventually win 72-66. Ondrik netted 18 points in the win while Reid added 13 and tournament all-star Zack Smith 11.
Reid was pleased with his team’s overall play and ability to compete with the best in B.C.
“This tournament was great for our team because we now know where we stand and what we have to improve on if we want to have a different result if we make it to provincial’s in March,” said Coach Reid.
The Panthers entertain the OK Mission Huskies of Kelowna Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Panther Pit in a battle for first place in the Okanagan Conference.