Skyhawks fall to Panthers
Late lead slips away from defending metro Edmonton champions in Saturday's division one final in high school women's basketball
Wednesday, Mar 12, 2014 06:00 am
Jasper Place – The third time wasn’t the charm for the St. Albert Skyhawks against their 4A nemesis in high school women’s basketball.
Saturday’s 70-65 gut-wrencher in the metro Edmonton division one final was only the fourth loss of the season for the Skyhawks but their third against the Panthers.
“It’s tough but they work just as hard as we do. It’s a good rivalry,” said Grade 11 forward Marinya Marcichiw of the 27-4 Skyhawks, ranked third in 4A before the metro playoffs.
Round three in the heavyweight battle was too close to call until Vanessa Wild staggered the Skyhawks with a three-point shot with 62 seconds remaining to put the Panthers on top 65-62.
“It hurts but it’s not the end of the world. We’ve still got provincials. We’ve still got a big banner to win. We’re just going to work that much harder,” Marcichiw said of the 4A provincials, starting next Thursday at Chinook High School in Lethbridge.
After the long bomb by Wild, the Skyhawks called a timeout to map out strategy. When play resumed, frantic end-to-end action left fans clinging to the edge of their seats in the jam-packed Jasper Place gym.
“It was tight the whole game,” said Sydney Kumar of the Panthers, who led all scorers with 26 points. “Honestly, it came down to who worked harder. It was pretty equal.”
With 44.8 seconds on the clock Marcichiw was unable to finish a low-post move, but the Skyhawks would later regain possession after stopping the Panthers. A three-point attempt by Brielle Wise just missed and during a wild scramble for the ball on the floor the Panthers were awarded possession with 23.3 to play.
With 16.4 to go the Skyhawks fouled Kumar. Her first free throw was successful and the second shot missed the hoop but the Panthers were able to retrieve the ball and the Skyhawks fouled Wild with 12.9 on the clock. Wild nailed both free throws to finish with 25 points.
The Skyhawks didn’t give up down by six as Wise drained a three-ball with 6.2 showing.
Kumar was fouled again and the Grade 12 standout sealed the deal with two free throws with 5.2 left in the playoff thriller.
“As stressful as it was and as nervous as we all were we handled ourselves pretty good,” said Kumar of the No. 4-ranked 4A Panthers.
The Skyhawks trailed for most of the game until an 11-point run in the fourth quarter put the two-time defending metro champions on top 58-54 with under five minutes to go.
“We started to move our feet a lot more and just made all the hustle plays, all the 50/50 balls were ours, and we just really concentrated on getting our shots in,” said Marcichiw, the team’s co-leader with Wise in scoring with 14 apiece.
A brisk opening period of back-and-forth hoops ended with Panthers ahead 19-17. Marcichiw sparked the Skyhawks’ offence with two field goals and two free throws.
In the second quarter the Skyhawks struggled dropping the ball through the hoop and the Panthers gobbled up the rebounds like a hungry cat to lead 34-27 at the break. Jessa Ivicak made three of the Skyhawks’ four field goals in the 10-minute period.
“We couldn’t execute as well as we would’ve liked to and our defence was a bit slow and we couldn’t really contain them as well we would’ve liked to,” Marcichiw said.
In the third quarter the Skyhawks twice trailed by 10 but closed out the period by outscoring the Panthers 15-9. The Ivicak sisters – Kayla and Jessa – combined for 11 of the Skyhawks’ 18 points in the quarter, including the last nine by the team while in foul trouble with three apiece. Jessa’s basket off an inbound play ended the quarter with the Skyhawks down 49-45.
“Our third quarter was our deciding factor on how we really wanted to play in the game and that’s why we had that big comeback,” said Marcichiw, who spent time on the bench following a nasty spill in a collision for the ball under the Panthers’ basket with 2:10 left in the quarter and the Skyhawks trailing by eight.
In the fourth quarter, and the Panthers up 54-47, the Skyhawks cranked it up to even the count at 54 on Marcichiw’s jumper from the top of the key and less than a minute later Kayla slashed her way to the basket for the go-ahead field goal with 5:53 remaining.
The Skyhawks continued to hold the upper hand as Wise converted a heads-up pass from Riki Steward to widen the gap to four points and Marcichiw’s field goal with 3:50 left the Skyhawks leading 60-57.
“It was tense but as a team we made ourselves more comfortable as the game went on,” said Marcichiw, 17.
The Panthers got back on track as Kumar sank a shot and later hit two free throws when Jessa fouled out with 2:55 to play after registering 12 points as the Panthers regained the lead at 61-60.
The Skyhawks continued to rack up the fouls and after the Panthers missed a pair of free throws they reeled in the second attempt and were fouled again. After the second free throw by Madison Whiting was successful the Skyhawks knotted it at 62 on Kayla’s field goal to give the Grade 12 co-captain 12 points. Kayla would foul out with 1:57 to go but the Panthers couldn’t sink both shots.
Hectic action ensued as Isabel Durocher’s long shot fell short and then Marcichiw’s pass was picked off in the paint, which put the wheels in motion for Wild’s game-changing three-pointer.
“That shot got everybody going again for us,” Kumar said. “It just came down to foul shots and who didn’t get down on themselves. If you’re down by three you can’t just give up. You have to keep pushing until the buzzer goes.”
Letting the late lead slip away after a gallant comeback was a tough pill for the Skyhawks to swallow.
“We had some misses down the stretch that were big that we needed to make in order to make that push to win the game,” said head coach Paige Gaudreau, “And, maybe when it wasn’t over yet, but a missed block out on a free throw hurt us as well.”
After the smoke cleared the Panthers finished 14-1 and the Skyhawks were 13-2 in the first season of the metro and Edmonton public league merger.
The final was also the best of the bunch in the Panthawk Basketball (Panther Athletic Club and Skyhawks Basketball) rivalry. The Panthers won 59-53 in December in St. Albert and 66-44 in the Panther Classic final last month against a line-up of only seven Skyhawks.
“I was excited today to play them with our full bench but it really came down to execution,” Gaudreau said. “They took us out of our offence a little bit and we weren’t able to get the ball where we wanted it to go in order to make people successful in those spots.”
Defensively the Skyhawks were strong in spurts but not consistent enough to shut down the Panthers, especially the deadly duo of Kumar and Wild who had two three-pointers apiece.
“It resulted in them either getting all the way to the rim, us fouling or us just being out of rotation,” Gaudreau added.
Kumar, 17, described both teams as mirror images of each other.
“It’s like playing the same team pretty much. We know their strengths and weaknesses and we used that to our advantage,” she said. “We knew that Kayla was back today (after missing both games against the Panthers) and it was going to be a bigger challenge but all we could do was play our hardest and play our hearts out and that’s what we did.”