Walnut Grove Gators hoping tight win gives them boost against top-seeded St. George’s Saints

The reigning-champion Burnaby South Rebels are among the other teams that move on to Thursday’s quarterfinals at the Quad A boys’ basketball provincials.

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The Walnut Grove Gators head into a Quad A boys’ basketball provincial quarterfinal against the top-seeded St. George’s Saints with the momentum.

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The No. 8 Gators of Langley advanced to Thursday’s 7 pm game at the Langley Events Center against the Vancouver’s Saints thanks to gutting out a 74-72 win over the No. 9 Terry Fox Ravens of Port Coquitlam on Wednesday at the LEC.

Daniel Ahn’s layup with 18 seconds left stood up as the winning points and was the 10th lead change of the game’s final five minutes. Terry Fox got the ball back in the waning seconds but couldn’t get a shot off.

St. George’s beat the No. 16 Burnaby Mountain Lions 75-43 on Wednesday to move on in another of the early games that day.

“It definitely gets us a little more battle-tested,” Walnut Grove coach Reid Taylor said of the win over Terry Fox. “Anytime you can go through the ups-and-downs of a game and come out the positive side it’s a good thing.”

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Taylor admits Walnut Grove struggled early in the year and takes the blame for it, saying he had put in too many plays too soon. The Gators flourished down the stretch and had won 11 in a row before losing the Eastern Fraser Valley final to the Abbotsford Panthers, who are this tournament’s No. 6 seed.

“I knew that we’d finish strong,” Taylor said of this season, “and we are playing our best basketball.”

Walnut Grove dominated the boards against Terry Fox, holding a 27-15 rebounding edge, highlighted by grabbing 16 on the offensive glass. Grade 12 center Dylan Senft had 14 boards, to go along with 23 points for the Gators.

“Dylan’s been an absolute beast for us all season,” Taylor said. “Multiple games of 20 points and 20 rebounds. He’s everything you could ask for as a coach. He plays hard, listens, rebounds, scores.

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“When there’s any ball up in the air, I’m planning for what we’re doing on offense, because Dylan’s always coming up with those 50/50 balls.”

Ahn, a Grade 12 guard, had 13 points for the Gators.

Walnut Grove led by as many 12 points in the third quarter. Terry Fox was spearheaded by the strong play of Grade 10 guards Ethan Chae and Titus Heron. Heron finished with 24 points, Chae had 10.

“In the second half, it seemed that they were getting to the hoop almost at will. They’re a very strong group of guards. We knew that going in. Those were the guys we were keying on. But my goodness the future is bright at Terry Fox,” Taylor said.

St. George's vs.  Burnaby Mountain action during the 2022 BC High School Basketball Championships at the Langley Event Center in Langley, BC., on March 9, 2022.
St. George’s vs. Burnaby Mountain action during the 2022 BC High School Basketball Championships at the Langley Event Center in Langley, BC., on March 9, 2022. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

St. George’s coach Guy daSilva believes his team is “one of the better defensive teams in the province,” and they held Burnaby Mountain to 24 per cent shooting (six-of-25) in the first half Wednesday en route to taking a 51 -16 lead into the intermission break.

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“I don’t know if they were ready for our pressure. And when you’re not scoring it’s hard to keep guarding. It’s not different at all levels of basketball,” daSilva said. “Defense is what we pride ourselves on. We always say that defense travels, because no matter where we go if we guard we’re going to put ourselves in a position to win.”

The Saints also were eight-of-14 from the three-point range in the first half, something that even daSilva admitted surprised him. The overall shooting at the provincials typically improves as the week moves on since teams become more accustomed to shooting at a bigger venue like the LEC. The depth perception is decidedly different from school gyms, where hoops are closer to the walls.

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In other games of note, the reigning-champion and No. 5-seeded Burnaby South Rebels downed the No. 12 Claremont Spartans of Victoria 94-62. Standout center Karan Aujla, who was playing his first game since hurting his knee in a Feb. 10 game against the Kelowna Owls, played 27 minutes and had 17 points to go along with six rebounds. I have sat the entire fourth quarter.

The Rebels, who were the No. 1-ranked team much of the season, dropped a 69-62 decision to the Centennial Centaurs of Coquitlam in the Fraser Valley North playoffs on Feb. 25 with Aujla on the sidelines. It’s their lone loss of the season. They moved to 30-1 Wednesday.

“Karan looked good. He got the minutes he needed and we got him out when we needed to,” said Burnaby South coach Mike Bell.

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Guard Jimmy Zaborniak had 31 points for Burnaby South.

They’ll play No. 4 seed Kelowna in the 8:45 pm quarterfinal Thursday. The Owls beat the No. 13 Enver Creek Cougars of Surrey 70-54 on Wednesday.

Kelowna and Burnaby South squared-off in the 2020 Quad A final, with the Rebels winning 70-58. Aujla and Zaborniak were both part of that Burnaby South team.

There were no provinces last spring because of COVID-19. All of high school sports were placed in practice-only mode.

The LEC is also hosting the Triple, Double and Single A provinces this week. The finals are Saturday.

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