It was a dream start but a nightmare finish for the Walnut Grove Gators.
But while their night still had a silver lining, unfortunately, for them, they had their sights set on the gold.
Playing the top-ranked Kelowna Owls in the championship final of the B.C. AAA girls provincial basketball finals on Saturday at the Langley Events Centre, the third-ranked Gators had a great first quarter before the Owls’ defence turned the game in favour of the Okanagan visitors.
Kelowna would win 67-61.
“It wasn’t looking good, our game plan was to try and get the ball out Tavia’s (Rowell) hands and her teammates were hitting shots,” said Kelowna coach Darren Semeniuk.
That opening quarter saw the Gators score eight field goals, half of which came from beyond the arc, to take a 20-11 lead after 10 minutes.
“But we stuck with it and we kind of forced the issue a little bit defensively and tried to wear her down a little bit,” he said.
The plan worked.
Kelowna responded to take a 35-30 lead at the half and then stretched the advantage to 13, leading 56-43 after three quarters.
Walnut Grove would get as close as four points, 59-55, with 4:30 to go, but that would be as close as they could get.
“They just notched up their defence and their press just caused us problems getting into our half court set and I really attribute it to their defence and our inability to move the ball the way we wanted to,” said Gators coach Darren Rowell
“But kudos to Kelowna. When we fell flat, we tried a number of things that didn’t work for us and they just took us out of our game and disrupted us. Their defence was just at another level.”
“But our girls battled really hard and we are so proud of them,” he added.
This was the third meeting of the season between the two teams, with Walnut Grove winning the first two.
But Kelowna employed a different defence this time around.
“We learned we could get up and defend them little more. We played it safe the first two games,” Semeniuk said.
“They all bought into it and it showed out there.”
Walnut Grove committed 29 turnovers compared to just 14 for Kelowna.
Tavia Rowell led Walnut Grove with 19 points while Sophia Wisotzki had 16 points. Wisotzki, just in Grade 9, was also named the touranment’s most outstanding defensive player.
Neither team had ever won a provincial banner and the silver marks an all-time best for Walnut Grove.
Semeniuk said the the championship is for all of Kelowna and the community coaches who have played a part in developing his players.
“For us to bring home a provincial championship is really a testament to all those coaches who have worked with these girls.”
Hanson returned to Kelowna after a year away for basketball.
“What a way to end, coming home, it is just incredible,” she said.
“I can’t wrap my brain around it. It was such an amazing experience.”
The Gators can be buoyed by the fact they lose just one starter, first team all-star Natalie Rathler, and the fact they gain some more talented players after the school’s junior team won the provincial title earlier in the day.
Rowell was also named a first team all-star while Jessica Wisotzski (Walnut Grove) and Jenna Dick (Brookswood) weresecond team all-stars. Dick helped the ’Cats to a fifth-place finish.