FLEETWOOD PARK 73 - 65 TUPPER
Players hung their heads and crumpled to the court, their bodies and resolve totally spent. A pony-tailed coach embraced them all, and at least one Tupper Tiger hid his tears in his jersey as he met the Fleetwood Park Dragons to shake hands after losing the senior boys AAA B.C. championship final Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre.
“There’s only one champion,” said Tigers head coach Jeff Gourley. “We take the silver and I am incredibly proud of these boys. We’re back at it Wednesday to start the next season.”
Despite overwhelming the Dragons on the momentum of tireless defence and a 21-3 run to start the game, the Tigers came up short in the next three quarters and lost the provincial title by eight points.
The Tigers, ranked No. 1 in the weeks leading up to the tournament, built their early lead by shooting seven-for-10 from the field and scoring on all but one offensive possessions. On defence, a high zone crippled the No. 2 Dragons, who were further rebuffed by the iron.
The victory seemed to be in their grasp. Each of Tupper’s starters scored as the Tigers shot to an 18-point lead, and the Dragons’ only two baskets in the quarter came from the hands of Noah Licas and Travis Erickson who hit identical three-pointers from the corner.
The second quarter belonged to Fleetwood Park, who answered with an 18-10 run thanks largely to Emeka Okuma who came alive with 10 points, four rebounds and two blocks in the quarter. Okuma, who was named the AAA Most Valuable Player, finished with 20 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocks in the game. Defending in the paint, the six-foot-three senior swatted away shots on a vertical that took him halfway to the rafters at the LEC.
The Dragons outscored the Tigers by six points in the quarter and entered the half having cut the lead to nine.
“I told them to just chip away at it, we’ve been in games like this before,” said Dragons head coach Jordan Taylor, who’s coached the Surrey side since the seniors were in Grade 8.
Chip away they did. The Tigers’ lead dwindled to two after the third quarter and in the fourth, after Niko Mottus was hit in the face but charged with a holding foul, Okuma came up with a clutch stuff, and Tomas Fovenyi sunk his only one of 12 attempts from three-point range to give the Dragons a 50-49 lead, their first of the game.
Tupper’s Santi Ubial held back the tide with a jumper of his own, and the Tigers were back on top 51-50.
But it wasn’t Tupper’s night. Fleetwood Park took control when Okuma denied another shot, and Erickson hit three straight daggers from outside in less than one minute to go up 61-53.
Chris Schneller hit his first perimeter shot to put the Tigers within five points, and John Tait got one back on Okuma by rejecting him at the rim, but the clock ran out on Tupper’s season.
Schneller had 21 points in the loss, Tait had 14 points and 17 rebounds, and Taylor Ross added 15 points.
On Sunday, Gourley wrote the Courier: “Difficult evening. Difficult day today. […] But what really gave me solace today was when I went out to grab a few groceries on Main Street. It was pouring rain and with my head down, soaking wet, splashing through the puddles followed by the black dog of depression.
“As I came out of the grocery store, suddenly three little squeaky voices called out, ‘Hi coach, hi coach! Tough game last night!’ I looked up and there were three boys, not yet young men, players from the younger grade teams, walking home from the Hillcrest community centre. They said, ‘We started working out for next year today."
All of a sudden it wasn’t raining so hard, Gourley wrote.