Fairfax wins second Snowball title, topping Yale in battle of Lions
It's not often that Yale Lions coach Al Friesen will refer to a 24-point loss as "a supreme effort" by his team.
But that's what he said in the aftermath of the Snowball Classic title game on Saturday evening, and he was absolutely right to say it.
Yale, the No. 2-ranked AAA high school boys basketball squad in B.C., dropped a 91-67 decision to the Fairfax Lions of Los Angeles in the finale of the 53rd annual Snowball tourney at Abbotsford Senior.
But the game was far closer than the final score indicated – the Yaleans hung around for the better part of three quarters before the highly touted Californians pulled away in the fourth. And Friesen was convinced the outcome could have been different if his team's uncharacteristic shooting struggles hadn't blunted their high-octane offence.
"They're the most athletic team we've played," Friesen said of Fairfax. "And we had lapses – for 40 minutes, it's hard to keep up that kind of intensity.
"But we shot the ball as poorly as we've shot it all year. We missed layups, we missed wide-open threes, we missed 15-footers."
Yale's pedal-to-the-metal pace tends to wear down most of their opponents locally, but it wasn't as much of a culture shock for Fairfax.
The Los Angeles squad boasts a great deal of depth and size – headlined by NCAA Div. 1 prospects Chaunce Hill and Reggie Theus Jr., both 6'6" – and they cranked up the intensity level by throwing a full-court press at Yale for much of the evening. Fairfax was also quite proficient in transition, and Hill thrilled the capacity crowd with several thunderous throwdowns.
"The kids like playing that way (uptempo)," Fairfax coach Harvey Kitani said. "You've got to be able to play a variety of ways depending how the game's going, but it was good to us throughout the tournament."
In a battle of the Lions, Yale was the underdog, but they within striking distance for much of the night. The locals trailed by 12 points at the half, and they were within 11 late in the third.
But Fairfax took over at that point, reeling off an 11-2 run bridging the third and fourth quarters to push the lead to 20 and essentially drain any suspense from the proceedings.
"The thing that wore us down more than anything else was the missed shots," Friesen said, theorizing that all the clanks at the offensive end distracted his players' focus on defence. "The kids got frustrated.
"It's tough for kids to accept – big gym, meaning lots of people, and the shots aren't dropping. It affects them."
Hill led the way for Fairfax with 24 points, while Theus Jr. (17), Jonathan Brown (13) and Sage Woodruff (13) also scored in double figures.
Yale's JJ Pankratz tied Hill for game-high scoring honours with 24, while Jauquin Bennett-Boire chipped in with 14.
It's the second time in three years that Fairfax hoisted the Snowball trophy – they also won in 2011. Kitani said the event was "just as fantastic as the first time."
"The whole community and people here at the high school are so hospitable," he said. "It's a tournament I would highly recommend to anyone."
In other Snowball action, the St. George's Saints knocked off the Kelowna Owls 74-70 in the third-place game. A pair of Abbotsford squads clashed in the fifth-place contest, and it was the W.J. Mouat Hawks edging the host Abby Senior Panthers 69-58. A fourth local team, the MEI Eagles, won the consolation final with a 68-59 victory over the Caledonia Kermodes.
Fairfax point guard Brown was tournament MVP, while Hill was named top defensive player. Pankratz won the Best of Abbotsford award, selected by the Abbotsford News, which recognizes the Snowball's top local player.
First team all-stars included Hill, Theus Jr., Pankratz, Bennett-Boire and Buster Truss of Kelowna, while second team all-stars were Drew Urquhart and Deklan Chung of St. George's, and Tristan Etienne of Mouat (only three were selected).
Yale Lions coach Al Friesen exhorted his troops during the Snowball final on Saturday. (John Morrow photo)