The Bellerose Bulldogs are gaining ground on the first senior men’s basketball championship in school history.
The Bulldogs are 3-0 in the metro Edmonton division two league after going 9-1 last season.
“We’re going to take it this year, 100 per cent,” said the uber-confident Tye Weiss, a Grade 12 shooting guard, after the Bulldogs clipped the visiting St. Albert Skyhawks 70-64 last week.
The closest the Bulldogs came to a banner season was when head coach Don Phillips guided the team to the 2006 city conference final in the metro league in his St. Albert high school coaching debut.
The Bulldogs were poised to pull off the playoff feat in March before the stunning 80-76 setback in the quarter-finals against the Oscar Romero Ravens at Bellerose. The Ravens, 3A provincial qualifiers, finished 10-3 as the division runners-up.
The Bulldogs and Ravens competed in opposite pools in league play leading up to the playoff crossover.
There is one division this season with 12 teams, including the Ravens (3-1), Skyhawks (0-4), Paul Kane Blues (0-4) and Queen Elizabeth Knights (2-2), who the Bulldogs defeated 103-58 in the recent final of the Queen Elizabeth tournament.
A stacked roster of 10 Grade 12s includes seven returnees and a handful of graduates from the junior Bulldogs, 9-1 as the 2017 division two finalists.
“Out team is full of seniors, mostly Grade 12s, and we’ve got a bunch of juniors who are coming on the court and showing the seniors how to do it,” Weiss said.
The Bulldogs are tenacious and talented with an unwavering mindset.
“Everyone is confident,” said Weiss of the team’s swagger. “We’re always giving effort and getting ready for the next play.
“But our main strength is probably our offence. We have a lot of scorers and a lot of shooters.”
The last game before the Christmas break for the Bulldogs typified what the team is made off despite missing some key players like Matt Pilgrim, a standout at the Queen Elizabeth tournament.
“The key in the victory was high energy the whole game,” said Weiss of the St. Albert showdown with the Skyhawks. “It was a close game the whole time but our bench gave us a lot of energy and that was probably the difference in the game. The guys were always ready to go and that energy let us pull away.”
The first 10-minute period ended 17-12 with Nathan Monteiro’s buzzer beater to cap off a late surge by the Bulldogs.
Weiss kicked off the second quarter with a three-pointer and Dawson Murray’s three and the team’s fifth of the half made it 23-16.
At halftime it was 36-33 Bulldogs after the Skyhawks pulled even at 29 with 4:08 remaining.
The Bulldogs dropped five threes on the Skyhawks in the third quarter as Jacob Turpin opened and closed the team’s scoring attack with long distance shots.
A three by Weiss put the Bulldogs up by 10 with 7:09 left in the quarter when the Skyhawks called a timeout to regroup.
Trailing 55-41, the visitors tacked up seven unanswered points before quarter time.
The teams traded baskets in the last quarter before the Skyhawks closed the gap to 67-64 with 73 seconds to play.
After a slick one-handed basket by the athletic Noe Tchomo off an inbound play with 53.8 on the clock, the Skyhawks called a timeout and when play resumed Daniel Ward picked off a pass in the Bellerose end and that was basically the ball game.
Ward, a Grade 12 volleyball all-star with the 2017 division two champion Bulldogs and arguably the best multi-sport athlete at Bellerose since James Ammar in football, basketball and rugby in 1997/98, was a dominating figure in the paint despite foul problems.
Ward was sidelined with an injury in the 2017 playoffs and without the defensive minded six-foot-four forward with the long rebounding wingspan the Bulldogs suffered mightily against the Ravens.
Tchomo led the Bulldogs in scoring with 15 points, Weiss drained 14 and Turpin added 13.
“This was a really good performance for us,” Weiss said. “We’ve been getting better every game.”
The Bulldogs also beat the Skyhawks 78-56 last season at Bellerose.
“It’s a big rivalry. Basically it’s the game for St. Albert,” Weiss said.
The Bulldogs are back on the hardwood Jan. 8 against the Memorial Marauders (2-2) at 5:30 p.m. at Bellerose.
“We’ve got keep focusing on the next game, keep playing our hardest, give it all we’ve got and put forth our best effort with everyone on the team,” said Weiss, 16.