Both sides in the Battle of St. Albert were winners in Monday’s fight to the finish in high school women’s basketball.
The Paul Kane Blues emerged victorious against their respected rivals and the St. Albert Skyhawks took solace they can compete with the No. 2-ranked 4A team in the province after a gallant comeback fell short in the dying seconds of the action-packed thriller at the SkyDome.
“We came in knowing it was going to be tough because they’ve been racking up really good scores lately so it’s a really good feeling to win,” said Jenae John, a major player in the 55-51 triumph with a team-high 14 points and several defensive gems for the 9-0 Blues.
“It’s one of the highlights of our season. The PK/SACHS games are always such an important moment in our season,” John added. “We really showed how we can play as a team today and just rallied around each other’s performances.
“We had a phenomenal game.”
The Skyhawks, ranked ninth in 4A, suffered their first loss in league play by an eyelash.
“We gave it everything we had,” said Teá DeMong of the Skyhawks clawing their way back from a 13-point deficit in the third quarter to trail by one with 13 seconds remaining. “We really wanted to win this one but I think we’re all decently happy with the outcome.
“We can learn from it. We now know what to come with for the next time against them.”
DeMong had the ball and the game in her hands at the free-throw line with 13 ticks on the clock and the Blues hanging on at 52-51 but was unable to sink both attempts in the tension-filled gym.
“I guess I just let it get to my head too much,” said DeMong, the team’s leading scorer with 22 points.
John was “throwing up prayers” with DeMong in position to pull victory from the jaws of defeat.
“That’s like our game right there. We were just kind of hoping that she missed,” John said. “We rallied around that and ended the game on a good note.”
After the ball rattled the rim on DeMong’s second shot, Mimi Sigue of the Skyhawks crashed the floor to retrieve it but was unsuccessful in the ensuing scramble.
The Skyhawks then fouled Tegan MacKinnon and she hit the second free throw to make it a two-point game with seven seconds left.
After a Skyhawks’ timeout, the Blues disrupted an inbound pass by Kamryn DeKlerk earmarked for DeMong and Alesha Stanley was quickly fouled with three seconds to go and she calmly nailed both attempts to seal the deal.
“Hitting those two foul shots at the end, that was incredible,” John said.
The way the game ended, “was crushing, I guess, because it came down to the final seconds,” DeMong said.
The Skyhawks played catch-up pretty much from the get-go as the Blues scored nine consecutive points to end the first quarter in front 15-8 while pushing forward for leads of 29-18 at halftime and 40-33 after three quarters,
“We’ve been working in practice a lot about intensity and defence, especially our defence. We just played our defensive game that we needed to and it paid off,” John said. “We definitely showed our intensity and how hard we’ve worked this whole season towards the end when they came back.
“They hit a lot of shots and they brought up their intensity. They definitely came to play this game.”
The Skyhawks turned the corner with six consecutive points to close out the third quarter down by seven and the team’s last basket was Abby Morrison’s buzzer-beating drive to end the period.
DeMong tacked up 10 of the team’s 18 points in the last 10 minutes as the Skyhawks rallied valiantly. Brooke Froment and Sigue also contributed key points down the stretch.
“We were playing our basketball in the first and fourth quarters but in the middle of the game we kind of had our lull and I think that’s what lost it for us,” said DeMong, 15.
The versatile Grade 10 offensive threat pumped in 16 points in the second half, including a three-pointer from the corner to cut the lead to 48-44 with 3:34 remaining.
“Coming up from behind was the best part. We had a lot of adrenaline going,” DeMong said. “At the end, it just came down to little things like free throws and stuff like that.”
The Blues spread the scoring around with several players, especially Ella Stanley in the second half, taking turns tacking up pivotal points.
However, it was John, a valuable bench player and third-year player who performed like a starter that fuelled Paul Kane’s fire with a variety of baskets from different spots on the floor, including a couple of offensive rebounds, as well as lowering the boom on Morrison and Sigue as the team’s defensive undertaker.
“In warm-up I was like I’ve got to play my best this game. I’ve got to put it all out there,” said the six-foot-two Grade 12 post who patrols the paint like a number-eight in rugby.
The latest round for bragging rights in St. Albert women’s basketball was another showstopper between two elite level programs as fans were treated to another example of why high school sports is so special in the community.
“Both bleachers were full, there were equal fans on both sides, and it definitely got both teams excited on the floor,” DeMong said. “We all know each other so it’s all a little personal too but it’s also a lot of fun.”
The Blues also beat a short-staffed lineup of Skyhawks 60-33 in the semifinal of the 20th annual Mike Dea Classic on Dec. 1 at St. Francis Xavier High School.
Last season’s 1-2 mark against the Skyhawks was the 67-49 loss at the REB Invitational at Jasper Place, followed by the 53-49 win a couple of days later in league play at Paul Kane and then the 57-55 setback in the 4A Edmonton zone three/four playoff in March at PK.
Rebels up next
The upcoming results against the No. 1-ranked Jasper Place Rebels, 9-0 in division one as the two-time defending metro champions, 2017 4A provincial gold medallists and 2016 silver medallists, will determine if the Blues and Skyhawks will cross paths in the Feb. 28 semifinals.
The Blues host the Rebels tonight at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s going to be a fight just as much as this was. SACHS has been playing at their best and JP is always a tough opponent. They beat us twice and we beat them once and we’re going to try and beat them again,” said John of the 73-65 loss in the Mike Dea Classic final, 70-52 win in the 36th annual REB Invitational final to stop a 45-game winning streak by the Rebels and last month’s 59-52 loss in the Paul Kane Classic final.
The last game for the Skyhawks before the Feb. 26 quarter-finals is next Wednesday against the Rebels at 6:30 p.m. at the SkyDome.
“It should be a close one too hopefully and Leduc (7-2 Tigers visit the Skyhawks tonight at 6:30 p.m.) should be pretty good too,” DeMong said.
The division one final is March 3 at 5 p.m. at Jasper Place.
The 16-team provincials start March 15 in Medicine Hat. The Skyhawks won the consolation final and the Blues finished 2-1 on the championship side of the draw at last year’s provincials.