Skyhawks fly to final
St. Albert High beats Paul Kane to earn berth in basketball championship game
Saturday, Mar 08, 2014 06:00 am
The St. Albert Skyhawks will defend their metro Edmonton crown in high school hoops after surviving a scary semifinal showdown against the Paul Kane Blues.
The two-time reigning champions will challenge the Spruce Grove Panthers for division one honours today at 5 p.m. at Jasper Place High School.
It’s the first metro senior women’s final involving metro and Edmonton public teams since the merger of the two leagues last year.
“It’s pretty exciting. It’s going to be good competition,” said co-captain Kayla Ivicak of the Skyhawks, winners of three of the last four premier conference (now division one) banners in metro.
The Skyhawks and Panthers are both 13-1 in metro and are ranked third and fourth, respectively, in 4A.
The Skyhawks are 27-3 overall while losing twice to the Panthers.
“Yeah they beat us but this is a new season. Every game is it’s own. It doesn’t matter what happened in the season before. We just have to go out and play our game and play hard,” said Ivicak, a Grade 12 floor general who wasn’t in the line-up when the Panthers defeated the Skyhawks 59-53 in December in St. Albert and 66-44 in the Panther Classic final last month.
Wednesday’s hard-fought 56-39 triumph against the Blues propelled the Skyhawks into the final.
“It was a good game. They came out to play. We both wanted to move on. They wanted to win it just as bad as we did,” Ivicak said.
Losing by only 17 points was a huge achievement for the Blues in the Battle of St. Albert after setbacks of 61-36 in the Skyhawks Invitational Tournament final and 69-31 in league play at the SkyDome.
“We played them really well. It was only one quarter where we kind of lost it a little bit but we still gave them a good game,” said Rachel McIntyre, a Grade 11 point guard.
After escaping the first half with a two-point lead the Skyhawks ramped up the intensity in the third quarter and outscored the Blues 23-8 for a commanding 48-31 advantage with 10 minutes to play.
“We decided we wanted it. We came together as a team and did all the little things that we weren’t doing in the first half. It was going to be the little things that was going to make the difference,” Ivicak said.
The Skyhawks poured on the pressure while rolling up nine consecutive points to start the second half before Kaitlyn Hunder’s three-pointer for the Blues left the visitors trailing by eight with 6:41 left in the quarter.
“Their press in the beginning of the third quarter really took us off guard I thought and that was what kind of what gave them that personal jump ahead of us,” McIntyre said.
The ramped-up Skyhawks pulled away from the rattled Blues in the last five minutes of the quarter during a dominating 13-3 scoring spree with everybody on the floor contributing.
Brielle Wise played a major role in the third-quarter turnaround with seven points. It was a gutsy performance by the Grade 11 Skyhawk after crashing face first into the hardwood early in the second quarter while driving to the hoop. After a long delay the bloodied Wise left the court seeking medical attention and returned to the bench before the half ended with the right side of her face around the eye taped up. She started the second half and wasted little time converting an offensive rebound to put the Skyhawks up by five.
Wise’s unflinching determination symbolized the Skyhawks’ tenacity against a spunky Paul Kane squad.
“Our effort was there. We just didn’t give up at all. We went for all the 50/50 balls,” Ivicak said.
Tight first half
In the first half the Blues gave the Skyhawks fits while plagued by 13 fouls, compared to five for the home team.
The Blues jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the opening 3:30 minutes but failed to register a point as the quarter ended with the Skyhawks on top 10-8. Marinya Marcichiw pulled off a terrific athletic move in the paint to break the eight-all deadlock in the last minute of the period.
In the second quarter the Blues tied the score five times, highlighted by a three-point bomb by Sydney Hurlburt to knot it at 21 as the Paul Kane fans roared their approval.
Riki Steward of the Skyhawks closed out the half with the go-ahead basket with 40 seconds to go to make it 25-23.
McIntyre was thrilled to see the Blues clicking in the first half.
“Our shooting was really good and we played as a team. We really connected. It was great,” she said.
Ivicak, 17, wasn’t surprised by Paul Kane’s will to win.
“I knew that it was going to be a tough game. We’re St. Albert rivals and they weren’t going to let us have the game,” said the third-year Skyhawk.
Marcichiw and Jessa Ivicak finished with a game-high 13 points apiece. Wise drained 11 overall and Kayla Ivicak, a tireless all-around contributor, added six.
The Blues were led by Tiana Woyewitka’s 11 points and Hurlburt and Janell Desharnais tossed in eight apiece.
The loss was only the ninth in 32 games for the Blues, who haven’t beaten the Skyhawks since the 2011 metro premier semifinal.
McIntyre, 16, wasn’t discouraged by the lack of success against the Skyhawks this season.
“They outplayed us so we can’t really hang our heads,” McIntyre said of the four-time defending 3A provincial champions who are competing for the first time at the 4A level. “We came into this game knowing we really had nothing to lose. We just gave it our best shot and played well as a team. We really glued together and we ran our plays extremely well.”
The Blues will now host the Strathcona Lords to determine the third and fourth Edmonton zone seeds at provincials, March 20 to 22 at Chinook High School in Lethbridge. Date and time were unavailable at press time.
In league play the Blues (11-3) posted a 48-37 win over the Lords (10-4) in December.
The Blues are ranked eighth in 4A as the third-highest Edmonton team in the top-10 listings.
The ninth-ranked Lords are coming off a 74-24 drubbing by the Panthers in Wednesday’s semifinal.
The Blues punched their ticket to their second provincials in three years in Monday’s 71-66 quarter-final win over the Bev Facey Falcons (7-6), a 4A honourable mention.
“They were ahead for some points in the game. It was extremely close,” McIntyre said. “We beat them (61-38 last month in league play) so we were expecting them to come out with all they had and we had a pretty good last quarter to put us ahead of them.”
McIntyre believes the Blues will do some serious damage at provincials.
“We’re going to give it our all because we’re a very good team and we have the potential to be a higher-ranked provincial team.”