After a season marked with trials, tribulations and season-ending injury, the Highland Raiders senior boys basketball team are headed to the AA Island championships.
Showing their true colours at the North Islands this past weekend, the boys pulled off two upset victories over provincial contenders Kwalikum and Ladysmith. Going into the eight-team tournament seeded fifth, Highland shocked the competition to secure the second seed going into this weekend’s Island championships at Ladysmith.
Highland entered their first game at the North Islands with cautious optimism against tourney hosts Kwalikum. With a spirited home-crowd in attendance, the odds appeared to be stacked against Highland. However, having not played against each other during the season, Highland looked to capitalize on this unfamiliarity and take Kwalikum by surprise.
Doing just that, the Raiders executed their offence with precision right from the tip-off. Distributing the ball evenly in the back court, Highland scored five three-pointers. Noah Lewis led on both ends of the floor, with particular focus on forcing Kwalikum out of their offensive sets on defence.
Lewis was aided by Ian Betts, who contributed several timely steals and a pair of three-pointers. With the home crowd stifled to mere murmurs, Highland ended the first quarter up 26-15. The second quarter was more of the same, as Highland continued to execute on offence and contain Kwalikum’s array of talented athletes on defence. As they began to work the ball into the posts, forwards Nick Tancon and James Jerczynski rose to the occasion. With excellent positioning, Angus Ireland assisted the Highland forwards with strong defensive support. Closing out the first half, Highland was up 40-26.
Despite the sizable lead, Highland adopted a tabula rasa mentality going into the second half. It proved effective, as Kwalikum applied a full-court press in an attempt to shut down Highland’s offence. Clawing their way back, the Kondors cut their deficit by the end of the third to 52-45.
With the home crowd back into the game, the pressure was now back on Highland to pull off the upset. Rising to the occasion, Highland started to attack the pressuring Kwalikum defence. The Kondors were unable to cope with the speed of Betts and keen eyes of Lewis and Ireland. Tancon and Jerczynski were the beneficiaries, as the strong play from the back court forced Kwalikum to foul the pair down in the low post.
With time winding down, Kwalikum made a last effort to break Highland. But it was too little too late as the Raiders prevailed 63-60. Lewis led all scorers with 22 points, five assists and seven rebounds. In an equally gutsy performance, Betts drove the offence with 14 points and nine assists.
With one upset victory behind them, Highland looked to repeat their feat against second-ranked Ladysmith in the semifinals. Having lost to Ladysmith earlier in the season, the Raiders recognized the gravity of the task before them. However, in their most impressive defensive performance of the season, the boys caught Ladysmith off-guard.
Highland ended the first quarter leading 13-4. Heading the charge were late additions to the team Tancon and Jerczynski, who dominated the boards on both ends. Ladysmith recovered offensively in the second quarter, but were still unable to stop Tancon and Jerczynski on the glass. The first half ended with Highland leading 29-19.
Maintaining their defensive strength, Highland extended their lead in the third as Ladysmith began showing signs of fatigue and frustration as they began to foul. This was in large-part due to Young Hong, who gave an impressive performance at the high post, flustering Ladysmith as he carved through their defence.
Capitalizing on fouls, Jerczynski went six-for-eight from the free-throw line, pushing Highland ahead 41-28 going into the fourth quarter. With signs of fatigue showing on both ends, Highland looked to manage the clock and maintain their lead.
Ladysmith pulled within six points but took two technical fouls in the late going, which the Raiders capitalized on to win 45-38. Jerczynski led all scorers with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Ireland led the back-court with 11 points and four assists. Highland was now competing for the top seed in the North against Woodlands.
Heading into their final game, the wear and tear of the previous two games was beginning to show. With an already short-bench, minor injuries throughout and the reluctant loss of Jerczynski, Highland was all too familiar with the conditions they were up against.
Nonetheless, eager to seize the opportunity before them, the boys began the game with the same steely determination they demonstrated in their two previous performances.
Woodlands grabbed an early lead as Highland struggled to execute their offence. Woodlands continued to score despite a strong defensive effort. This pace continued through the second quarter, ending the first half with Woodlands up 29-17. Tancon carried Highland through the first half with a gritty performance, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
In the the third quarter Highland began to execute their offence. Shots began to drop, with big baskets by Betts and Jesse Kurtz. Tancon continued to battle on the boards, scoring six points off of second opportunities. Wilfred Arao Arao contributed with tenacity on the defensive end.
However, despite outscoring Woodlands in the second half, the Raiders could not overtake them, losing 54-44. Tancon led all scorers with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. “Despite the loss in the final, Highland held their heads high on what was ultimately a victorious weekend. The team had achieved what their rivals did not believe was possible – a ticket to the Island championships,” a team spokesperson said.
To follow the Raiders at the Islands, check www.sportvictoria.com (click on Vancouver Island AA Playoffs) for updated scores.