The Vernon Source For Sports Tigers are through to their first B.C. Junior B Lacrosse Championships since 2009, and they did it in dramatic fashion.
Darrell Landels scored the winner with 40 seconds left as the Cats edged the host Kamloops Venom 8-7 to win the best-of-five Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League series 3-1 Sunday night at Memorial Arena.
Burnaby will host provincials over the B.C. Day weekend at Bill Copeland Arena. Both the Mainland and Vancouver Island leagues are still in playoffs.
Craig Bigsby and Jordan Orr each pulled the hat trick for the Tigers, who got one goal from Nolan Frame and two assists from Sean Conners in the oven-like Memorial.
Frame, who was a rookie at 2009 provincials, is thrilled to be going back in his final year.
“That was one of the biggest reliefs,” said Frame. “Every time I’ve been in the finals, it’s been against the Venom.
“The whole series was stressful. Every game was close and low scoring. Joel (Fruncillo, netminder) did a lot for us in that series.
“Our team knew we deserved it. I’ve never had a team like this. It’s awesome to go out on your graduating year with a team that’s so in sync together.”
Of the four games, the widest scoring margin was three goals. Fruncillo anchored Vernon’s defence with a sparkling 6.25 goals-against average in the final, capped by a 52-save showing Sunday.
Vernon co-coach Keith Hanna said the scorelines were indicative of how tightly the teams played.
“It didn’t come easy, that’s for sure,” said Hanna. “It was a great series and Game 4 was no different. It was a close, close series and Kamloops gave it a great effort.
“It gave us confidence in our game-plan, and it gave us confidence with each of our teammates now. That’ll really help us going forward.”
Vernon, who ended the regular season at 12-3-1, held period leads of 4-3 and 5-3. Things got a bit wild late in the third, with some back-and-forth scoring.
The Venom, who finished at 5-10-1 and upset the top-ranked Kelowna Raiders in the semifinals, equalized with a minute to play before Landels put it away for good.
“You could tell the heat got to everybody,” said Hanna.
Jerome Thorne and Blaine Boomer, each with a pair, and singles by Max James, Brody Jorgensen and Brett DeFrias replied for the Venom.
Kamloops’ Riley Polacik summed up his post-game feelings via Twitter: “2 sprained thumbs, bruised legs, stiff neck, but right now nothing hurts worse than my heart #venom #lacrosse #endofafunseason.”
Vernon took 40 penalty minutes to Kamloops’ 10. Tenacious Tiger defender Austin Lewarne was sent off early in the second period after taking his fifth minor.
The Tigers killed 13-of-17 minors, including two full 5-on-3 advantages.
“Our special teams were game-changers,” said Hanna. “They were where we added to our scoring and stopped theirs.”
“Our dee played really big and really mean against the fast, skilled offence Kamloops has.”
With key Tigers Mason Limb and Liam Drabiuk missing Game 4 to work commitments, and Lewarne ejected, Vernon captain Brett Hanna logged a ton of minutes, working powerplay, transition and short man.
Keith Hanna also credited two-way players Landels, Quinton Harrish and Liam McPhee for stepping up in Lewarne’s absence. He also praised rookies Ray Guidi and Aaron Green, who saw their first action in the final.
“Running and playing both ends of the floor was a challenge and they came up to it.”
Offensively, the Tigers were too deep for the Venom to contain.
“When they keyed on Sarazin and me, then Bigsby came out scoring,” said Frame. “Then they tried to key on him and they couldn’t, and we had other players that put up numbers.”