O’Leary High School – Saturday’s exorcism of the Paul Kane junior men’s basketball demons stopped four years of losing the premier final.
“We called it the Paul Kane curse and it’s great to finally end it,” said a beaming Harrison Laforest, a Grade 11 power forward, after the Blues hung on to beat the plucky Bev Facey Falcons 61-59 for their first metro Edmonton championship since 2003 and the second title in Paul Kane history.
“What we did today is pretty special,” chimed in co-captain Josh Wilkie. “We’ll be known for quite some time as the team to break the curse.”
The Blues bowed out to the O’Leary Spartans in 2007 and 2008, fell to the Christ The King Chargers in 2009 and last year suffered a 63-52 setback against the Spartans.
“It was pretty heartbreaking to lose last year and that’s why it feels so good that we won it today,” said co-captain Jon Van Dorp, who was joined by Laforest, Wilkie and James Rowse as returning players from the 2010 junior line-up that finished 8-2 overall in premier. “This win means everything to us as a team. Words can’t even explain how we feel right now.”
The Blues led 19-14 after the first quarter, 29-22 at halftime and 44-37 after three quarters en route to their 13th victory in 15 games this season.
“It’s the best we played all year as a team. Our starting five really stepped up today. We also had people coming in off the bench that stepped it up,” Wilkie said.
In league play Facey (11-1) finished first and the Blues (10-2) placed second. Facey beat the Blues twice: 63-46 Jan. 4 at Paul Kane and 61-59 at Sherwood Park in the last game before the playoffs with first place on the line.
“We were really motivated by those two losses and that really pushed us to this win,” Laforest said. “Obviously there was more on the line today. This was the big game. It was for all the marbles and we really wanted to go all out and lay everything we had on the floor.”
The Blues were confident they could get the job done.
“We came in knowing we are the best team in this league. We also knew they would be nervous, considering they were the top dog,” said Wilkie, 16, a Grade 11 small forward who tacked up 16 points. “We showed up today. We played sick defence and they didn’t even know what to do on offence.”
The top defensive team in the league (49.1 average in 12 games) kept Facey under wraps for most of the match.
Our defence came up big. It was definitely the key in the win, Van Dorp said. We played good help-side defence. Coach [Andrew] Meek has been teaching us that all year and we really came through in that area today.
Laforest, 17, agreed with Van Dorp’s assessment.
“Defence comes first and offence comes off the defence. It’s everything. It’s our thing,” said Laforest, who finished the game with 18 points, including seven in the last quarter.
Laforest’s second three-ball of the game ended the first half with a bang. His third three-pointer, a dagger from the corner of the floor with 3:22 remaining, extended the lead to 57-49.
The energetic hoopster worked the baseline like a man on a mission and gave the Blues a physical presence in the offensive zone.
“If we lost this game by 20 or one point, it would’ve been bad so I really wanted to come out and bring energy to the team, just like everybody else,” said Laforest, who could’ve easily had 30 points if he had made even a fraction of the shots he missed. “It was shaky at the start. I really thought I wasn’t going to make anything but I held through and I made those clutch threes to help the team out.”
The Blues never relinquished the lead after Van Dorp wired two three-balls in a row late in the first quarter. His third three-pointer put the Blues up by 10 with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Van Dorp, 16, contributed 18 points, including three clutch free throws in the last minute of play. He tossed in two with 52.8 on the clock to make it 60-53. Seven seconds later, he hit the first of two from the line to give the Blues some breathing room at 61-56.
“Yeah, I was a little nervous but I just focused on the net and made my shots and it was all good,” said the Grade 11 point guard.
Facey refused to throw in the towel while playing catch-up for three quarters of the game. A field goal and foul shot to complete a three-point play with 34.1 left, cut the deficit to two points. A Paul Kane turnover was followed by an errant shot by Facey, which was gobbled up by Wilkie and he was fouled. After he missed both free throws with 15.7 to play, Facey had another crack at scoring the equalizer but missed the shot and time eventually ran out.
“You’ve got give a lot of credit to Facey; they’re a good team,” Van Dorp said. “It was a real intense battle and it’s good to win it. We worked hard when it mattered and we made shots when it mattered and that was the difference.”