Skyhawks settle for third place
Host team loses heartbreaker to Leduc Tigers in tournament semifinal
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 06:00 am
The race to provincials in 3A men's basketball heated up at the Skyhawks Invitational Tournament.
The No. 8-ranked Leduc Tigers gutted the No. 3-ranked Skyhawks with the winning basket with 0.6 seconds left in regulation time in the semifinals after knocking off the No. 2-ranked Edmonton Christian Lions in the opening round of the eight-team draw last weekend at the SkyDome.
Leduc went on to lose the final to the Bev Facey Falcons (4A honourable mention), the Lions beat the Strathcona Christian Academy Chargers in the consolation final and the Skyhawks hung on to defeat the Ernest Manning Griffins of Calgary 66-65 for third place.
The trio will duke it out in the Edmonton zone elimination tournament in two weeks for provincial berths. It’s expected two teams will represent the zone at provincials, March 14 to 16 at St. Peter the Apostle High School in Spruce Grove.
Last year at zones the Skyhawks lost the first qualifier final by four points to the Lions and defeated the Beaumont Bandits by 15 points in the second qualifier for their first trip to provincials in 15 years.
As the sixth seed in the 12-team draw the Skyhawks finished fifth.
“We have the potential and drive to do better than that,” said Grade 12 guard Ben Crothers. “We’re still growing as a team but in a good way. We’re still getting better every game, which is good. Our character is always building so by the time we get there we’re going to be ready and we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Led by eight seniors, all returning players, the Skyhawks are 17-12 overall after going 21-17 last year.
“Every game a different senior has stepped up,” Crothers said. “It’s been really good that way that everyone is really committed this year, all eight of us.”
Tonight at 6:15 p.m. the Skyhawks and Leduc close out the regular season at the SkyDome before Monday’s quarter-finals in the metro Edmonton premier conference.
“We’re hungry. We’re going to come out really strong. We’re not going to let this (loss to Leduc on Saturday) happen again,” Crothers said. “We’re going to use the momentum from this Wednesday’s game and take it into the playoffs and hopefully go far from there.”
The Skyhawks will visit the Sturgeon Spirits (4-5) or Paul Kane Blues (3-6), the two-time defending premier champions, in the opening round. The Blues battle Sturgeon in Namao tonight at 6:30 p.m. to see who finishes second in pool B.
In league play the Skyhawks rallied from an 18-point halftime deficit to shock the Blues 78-64 at Paul Kane on Dec. 17 and last week in Namao pulled off a dramatic 73-72 come-from-behind victory against Sturgeon.
“They’re both just like Leduc. They’re a big rival team with us so it’s going to be a dogfight whoever we end up playing against,” said Crothers, who buried the game-winning shot against Sturgeon, a three-pointer with seven seconds to play.
Last weekend the Skyhawks tipped off their second annual tournament with a convincing 82-47 win over the St. Peter the Apostle Spartans before dropping their first game of the season to Leduc. Last month the Skyhawks rebounded from a slow start to win 93-86 in Leduc and less than a week later defeated Leduc 80-74 in the final of the Beaumont tournament.
“Leduc just came off a pretty big win against Edmonton Christian, which was absolutely huge for them. Edmonton Christian is a really strong club. We were expecting to see them today actually,” Crothers said of the Edmonton public league Lions, who downed the Skyhawks 84-73 in the semifinals at the recent St. Peter the Apostle tournament. “Leduc just used the momentum from that game in this one against us and did really well.”
The Skyhawks jumped out to a quick 10-0 advantage en route to leads of 17-13 after the first quarter and 30-24 at halftime until Leduc rattled off eight straight points to jump 40-34 with 3:22 left in the third quarter. After a Skyhawks’ timeout, the home team ended the period with an 11-2 point run, culminating with Cam Vilcsak’s three-pointer with three seconds left in the quarter to regain the lead at 45-42.
In the fourth quarter Leduc scored nine in a row to knot it at 59 with 2:47 to play. Leduc went on to tie it twice before Crothers kicked the ball out to Vilcsak in the corner and his three-pointer made it 66-63 with 42.1 seconds to go.
After Leduc closed the gap with two free throws, Crothers missed a pair from the line with 17.8 remaining.
With 3.9 ticks on the clock, an inbound play by Leduc from in front of its bench set up a difficult fadeaway jumper that hit nothing but net for the win.
“It was an exciting game. Everyone played well. We both wanted it quite a bit, Crothers said. “We missed some key free throws at the end, but other than that it was pretty tight the whole way. They put up a pretty tough shot at the end and there was not much we could do; he made a great shot.”
Vilcsak was credited with 19 points, Landon Fink added 14 and Roberto Sanchez-Enkerlin had 12 for the Skyhawks in a game they should have won.
“We moved the ball really well. We finally put together a pretty good team game. We didn’t break down from their pressure at the end, which was about the only positive thing at the end,” said Crothers, who finished the loss with 10 points. “Cam also did a really good job of stepping up and filling in those leader’s shoes today as well.”
In the third-place game the Skyhawks led by 10 at halftime, then blew it open to 20 in the third quarter. The Griffins closed the gap in the last quarter as Skyhawks' head coach Evan Holstein emptied his bench.
Crothers, 17, and Vilcsak poured in numerous three-pointers to lead the team.