It was a sweet repeat for the St. Albert Skyhawks at the Optimist Showdown basketball tournament.
In the varsity women’s final Saturday, the Skyhawks scored a convincing 72-59 victory against the Paul Kane Blues at the SkyDome.
“This is way sweeter than last year because it’s against Paul Kane and we have that rivalry with them,” declared game star Kendall Lydon after throttling the Blues with five three-balls and 23 points overall.
Post-game comments by the Blues after losing 50-39 to the 2010 3A provincial gold medallists and metro Edmonton premier champions Jan. 10 at Paul Kane had ruffled the Skyhawks’ feathers.
“A lot of things were said so we had to prove a point and we did,” Lydon said.
The final result flattered the Blues. They were outscored 24-8 in the second quarter and trailed by 22 points at halftime.
“It was a typical game against St. Albert High. It was the pressure of being the best in St. Albert,” said Brittney Scott, the player of the game for the Blues with 17 points. “We came into this game a lot more calm than the last game against them. We just hit some highs and lows and our lows dragged us down.”
The stands were packed to watch the grudge match between the number one-ranked 3A team in Alberta against the eighth-ranked 4A Blues.
“What we did tonight shows why we’re ranked pretty high but we still need to keep proving ourselves in order to stay up there,” Lydon said.
The competitive juices were flowing throughout the entertaining affair.
“Both teams played super intense the whole game. It was fun,” Lydon said.
In the first half the pressure to perform overpowered the Blues.
“It was hard. It took a toll. It really got to us,” Scott said. “We just didn’t come out with the right mindset from the start. We let them get to us too much. We let the officials get to us. We let the talk get to us. We just needed to get out of our own heads and play the game for what its worth.”
The first quarter was played at breakneck speed, dominated by missed shots, turnovers and tough defence. The beginning of the end for the Blues were three-pointers by Zoe Downing, Shelby Hucul and Lydon in the last 2:47 before quarter time. Lydon’s dramatic buzzer-beater, set up by Downing’s wicked dash down the court and Hail Mary pass ended the period with the Skyhawks up 16-10.
“Zoe drove the ball hard and I was wide open so she just kicked it to me. I knew there was like 0.1 seconds left so I just threw it up and it just happened to go in,” said the Grade 11 point guard.
Lydon started the second quarter with back-to-back three-balls, igniting a nine-point run before Whitney Follette’s offensive rebound with 6:03 left until halftime left the Blues down by 13.
The Skyhawks sank six of their nine three-balls in the first half. Lydon drained 12 points in total. Hucul was a workaholic at both ends of the court while tossing in 10.
“We had really good pressure D on their guards,” Lydon said of the mismatch the Skyhawks exploited. “We moved the ball well, saw open shots and open plays and hit just about everything we shot.”
Credit the Blues for not throwing in the towel at halftime with the outcome a done deal. They trimmed the deficit to 11 points after three quarters by outscoring the Skyhawks 22-11 as seven different players registered points. They ended the period with six straight points while going 4-for-8 from the free throw line in the last two minutes.
“We came back out after halftime and brought it to them. We weren’t willing to give up the fight and lose. We gave it all we had. Everyone came together as a team in that third quarter,” Scott said.
Three-balls by Lydon and Downing in the third quarter helped the Skyhawks maintain their sizeable lead.
“We just had a mental lapse that quarter. [Head coach John] Dedrick told us what we had to do but we just did the exact opposite,” Lydon said.
In the fourth quarter, and the Skyhawks ahead 53-46, Lydon wired her fifth three-ball with 7:59 to play. Less than a minute later, Haley Warmington of the Skyhawks ran over the diminutive Melissa Woolley en route to the basket and was later fouled by the Paul Kane guard. Warmington, a transfer student from Paul Kane, drained both free throws to extend the lead.
A couple of baskets by Katie Burak and a field goal by Stephanie Gartner down the stretch gave the Skyhawks a commanding 66-47 lead with under three minutes remaining.
Warmington and Downing finished with eight points apiece and Amber Easthope had six.
“We played as a team the whole time,” said Lydon, 17. “It was a great tournament for us [4-0 record]. This is the best we transitioned the ball all year. We were finally up and running. We had 11 players back too for the first time in a long time.”
The Skyhawks’ most valuable player at Showdown showed no ill effects from a sprained ankle that left her limping prior to the tournament.
“I’m starting to get my shooting back and I’m starting to play the way I want to and how I know I need to. It felt good to play like that again before I got hurt.”
Meanwhile, the Blues were led by Scott’s physicality in the paint. The 17-year-old forward also displayed strong shooting skills.
Josee Larson recorded eight points and her older sister, Allie, had seven for the Blues. Follette chipped in with seven and Sarah Thomas scored all six of her points in the third quarter.
In the semifinals, the Skyhawks blasted the St. Francis Xavier Rams 79-44. Haley England led all scorers with 15 points. Warmington and Hucul tossed in 12 apiece. Downing fired three of the team’s six three-balls while tacking up 11 points. Burak added 10.
The Blues advanced to the final with a hard-fought 78-56 win over the Archbishop Jordan Scots. The Scots went on to beat the Rams 68-55 for third place in the 16-team draw.
“They gave us a run for our money. There were times when we didn’t think we were going to win that game,” Scott said.
In league play Monday, the Skyhawks (7-1 premier; 14-7 overall) defeated the Scots 75-45 in Sherwood Park. Lydon and Hucul each had 13 points. Paige Knull and Downing pumped in 11 apiece. The Blues (5-2 premier; 12-5 overall) lost 71-57 to the number-one ranked 4A O’Leary Spartans (7-0) in Edmonton.