The Paul Kane Blues settled for second best at the 21st annual Optimist Showdown in St. Albert.
In the varsity men’s final Saturday the Blues lost 69-59 to the Camrose Trojans at Bellerose Composite High School.
“Our big men got into foul trouble in the first half. When they were on the bench and we had a small line-up, their big guys kind of took control over us for a little while,” said Connor Bradley, captain of the Blues and Grade 12 point guard. “We could’ve made a run in the fourth quarter. It was like 57-51 for about four minutes straight and we kept getting great chances but we just couldn’t hit our shots.”
Grade 11 post Tyler Wise was the top scorer against Camrose with 17 points. Bradley drained 15.
The Trojans are ranked sixth provincially in 3A. The Blues are unranked in 4A after starting the season in the number-eight slot.
“We’ve got to use it as motivation,” Bradley said of the rankings snub. “We’ve just got to worry about our league and not about the rankings right now. If we get out of our league, we’ll go to provincials regardless what the rankings say.”
In the semifinal against the Sturgeon Spirits, the Blues pulled off an impressive come-from-behind 75-72 overtime victory at Paul Kane. Down by 13 after three quarters, the Blues roared back to tie it at 67 at the end of regulation time.
“We weren’t being aggressive enough on offence and defence. They were pounding us on the glass. We just weren’t working hard enough,” Bradley said. “After that third quarter we just started to pounce on them. We got on a real good run and got into their heads.”
The turnaround started with defence.
“We really shut down their key guys. We boxed out a lot and got a lot of rebounds,” Bradley said.
A bit of luck was involved too.
“They had two free throws to win and their guy missed both of them. We got the rebound and we went into overtime,” Bradley said. “In overtime we had the momentum totally. They were demoralized and we just went right at them.”
Bradley and Wise drained a team-high 18 points apiece.
The teams will renew their budding rivalry Monday in Namao at 4:45 p.m. Last year the Spirits beat the Blues 79-71 in the second-last game in the regular season that pretty much determined first place in pool B and 65-62 in the playoff to determine the third metro seeded team in the Edmonton zone 4A tournament.
“We love playing those guys. It’s always a battle,” said Bradley, one of nine returnees on the 15-player roster.
Overall the Blues were happy to go 3-1 at Showdown.
“It was really good, especially that semifinal. It really showed what a team we can be and what a team we have to be for 40 minutes,” Bradley said. “We really learned how to play against big teams like Sturgeon and Camrose too.”
In premier action Monday the Blues improved their league-leading record to 6-1 in pool A, while going 13-7 overall, with an 82-74 decision against the Bev Facey Falcons (2-4) at Paul Kane.
Down by three after the opening 10 minutes, the Blues fell behind by seven early in the second quarter before Bradley rallied the troops with a pair of three-balls and 10 points in total as Paul Kane battled back to lead 34-31 at halftime.
In the third quarter, after Bradley evened the score at 39 with another three-pointer, the Falcons rattled off 14 straight points. The Blues got back on track as role players Adam Sturgess (five points, plus key rebounds), Stuart Boucher (four points and some assists), Jayden Bordian (four points), Hyrum Sutton (three points and some rebounds) and Des Anderson (two points and some assists) starting lighting it up. After three quarters the Blues trailed 59-57.
We had our starters out at the start of the third and they just took it right at us. We were kind of sloppy and Rick [Stanley, the head coach] put out the second unit and they really stepped it up, said Bradley, the teams top scorer with 17. Once our starters started seeing our second unit working hard, it was like, OK, lets go now, and we took it to them.
Baskets by Bradley and Wise before the two-minute mark in the fourth quarter put the Blues ahead to stay.
Bordian, a tattoo-covered and bespectacled Grade 12 guard, wired three three-balls in the last period. He scored 11 of his 15 points in the quarter.
“Jayden hit a ton of really clutch shots for us,” Bradley said.
A couple of lightning-quick baskets by Kahalil Bertin also contributed to the scoring spree. He finished with 10 points. Boucher and Wise had eight apiece.
The Blues have five games left before the premier playoffs tip off Feb. 28.
We want to keep winning games so we can clinch our first place spot so we have the best games to get into the final, and then we want to come out of metro and go to provincials [March 17 to 19 at Ross Sheppard High School], said Bradley, 17, a third-year senior team player. Right now were really starting to play our best basketball and thats good to see.