Gators show their teeth in third quarter, knock off top-ranked Yale in league final

JJ Pankratz of the Yale Lions drives to the basket between a pair of Walnut Grove defenders during the Fraser Valley East AAA league final on Saturday. Grove won 86-73. - John Morrow
JJ Pankratz of the Yale Lions drives to the basket between a pair of Walnut Grove defenders during the Fraser Valley East AAA league final on Saturday. Grove won 86-73.
— image credit: John Morrow

by Gary Ahuja and Dan Kinvig

Black Press

In a heavyweight battle between the top two teams in B.C., the Walnut Grove Gators landed a knockout punch in the third quarter.

Playing before a standing-room-only crowd at Yale Secondary in the finals of the Fraser Valley East high school boys basketball playoff tournament, the AAA No. 2-ranked Gators and the No. 1-ranked Yale Lions fought to a 41-41 stalemate at halftime.

But after the break, Walnut Grove seized control. They out-scored Yale 38-11 during a stunning third quarter, closing the frame on a decisive 26-3 run, and cruised to an 86-73 win.

"We tried to transition, push the ball – we were trying to wear them down," Gators coach George Bergen said afterward. "I think our ability to run is the best in the province, to me. I think that was the difference – when we run, we are pretty good."

Grade 11 phenom Jadon Cohee paced a balanced Walnut Grove attack with 18 points, and Josh Mayorga (15 points) and Sam Shin (14) also chipped in offensively for the victors. Yale guard Jassi Gill notched 22 points to lead all scorers, while Jauquin Bennett-Boire (18) and JJ Pankratz (17) also scored in double figures.

The Gators handed the Lions just their second loss against Canadian competition – their only other defeat was on the first weekend of the season against the Kitsilano Blue Demons.

But as the wins were piling up, Yale coach Al Friesen had sensed his team was developing some troubling habits. He's hoping this defeat galvanizes the Lions.

"I'd warned them that we were relying too much on our ability – our work habits, our effort, our team play was slipping," he said. "We had some close calls, but we'd pull them out.

"This (loss) is something that was needed," he added, noting that Walnut Grove trumped his team in stats that are indicative of hustle – offensive rebounds, recovering loose balls, fast-break layups. "There's no team that's that much better than anybody in this province, at the top . . . On a given day, it's partly who's hot, but who mentally comes the most ready to play and most ready to compete is going to win."

In other Fraser Valley East playoff action, the W.J. Mouat Hawks crushed a very good Sardis Falcons squad 64-40 in the bronze medal game. The Abbotsford Senior Panthers cruised past the MEI Eagles 82-55 in the fifth/sixth placing game, while the Bateman Timberwolves blasted the Chilliwack Storm 105-80 in the seventh/eighth contest.

The results determine seeding for the Fraser Valley regional tournament – the draw will be finalized on Sunday.

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