Cascades’ comeback falls short vs. X-Men in CIS bronze medal game

A stirring fourth-quarter rally fell short for the University of the Fraser Valley men's basketball team in the national bronze medal game.

A stirring fourth-quarter rally fell short for the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team, as they dropped an 89-86 decision to the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in the CIS bronze medal game.

The Cascades trailed by 16 points with just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter at the Halifax Metro Centre on Sunday. But they clawed their way back to within three points, and had a shot to tie it with 15 seconds left, but Sheldon Bjorgaard’s contested trey from the left corner rimmed out.

“I thought St. Francis Xavier played a great game, they had some players step up and make some big shots,” Cascades coach Barnaby Craddock said. “We fought back, and had a chance on the last possession, but we needed to play better for the first 30 minutes to beat a quality team like the X-Men.”

UFV power forward Kyle Grewal had a monster game, racking up 35 points on 14-for-21 shooting from the floor, along with 14 rebounds. Both those totals were game-high.

Joel Friesen (11 points), James York (11), Jasper Moedt (10) and Jordan Blackman (10) also scored in double figures for the Cascades, while Jeremy Dunn’s 28-point outing paced St. FX.

UFV got off to a great start, leading 27-20 early in the second quarter. But they fell asleep for a four-minute stretch, allowing the explosive X-Men to get going in transition, and the result was a 19-2 run for the Antigonish, N.S. squad.

St. FX pushed the lead out to 15 points early in the third, and every time the Cascades made a run, the X-Men would answer.

UFV finally found some traction midway through the fourth, reeling off an 11-0 run to get to within five points. They got to within three at 86-83 on a Grewal layup off a baseline inbounds play with 57 seconds left, and after the Cascades got a stop on the next possession, Bjorgaard missed a trey from the corner that would have tied the game.

After Dunn made two free throws, Grewal hit a three-pointer, and the Cascades fouled Dunn again. He made one of two, and the Cascades inbounded from halfcourt, trailing by three with 3.4 seconds remaining. But Joel Friesen’s pass to Grewal was heavily contested, and the X-Men stole the ball to seal the win.

Shooting guard Sam Freeman, the Cascades’ second-leading scorer, did not play Sunday. He’s been bothered by an ankle injury throughout the playoffs.

While the Cascades fell painfully short of a national medal, it’s been a breakthrough campaign nevertheless. They were in the top-10 national rankings for the entire season, peaking at No. 4, and that’s where they finished after their first-ever appearance at the CIS Final 8.

UFV loses key reserves Sheldon Bjorgaard and Mike James to graduation, but the rest of the roster returns, including all five starters.

“We will miss Sheldon and Mike, who were a big part of our success,” Craddock noted. “But with the rest of the roster returning we hope this experience will help us be even more prepared for the rigours of Canada West conference play.

“I hope in the back of our team’s minds is the goal of putting in the hard work to earn a berth to nationals again next season.”