Abbotsford’s two representatives at the AAA high school girls basketball championship, the MEI Eagles and the W.J. Mouat Hawks, emerged victorious in opening-day action at the Langley Events Centre.
The Eagles finished strong to fend off the Burnaby South Rebels 84-69 in their opener on Wednesday afternoon, while the Hawks thumped the Caledonia Kermodes 86-56 in the last game of the evening.
MEI, seeded No. 7 in the AAA draw, appeared to be in cruise control late in the third quarter against the Rebels, building a 19-point lead.
But with the Eagles perhaps relaxing a bit, Burnaby South chipped away at the lead, and suddenly they were within 73-67 with 2:46 left in the fourth quarter.
But after a timeout, MEI stepped on the gas, reeling off an 11-2 run to close the game with all five players on the floor – Tessa Ratzlaff, Taylor Claggett, Gabriele Cousins, Samantha Walton and Livia Kilian – contributing a basket.
Such composure down the stretch illustrated how far the Eagles have come since one year ago, when they dropped their provincial opener to the Handsworth Royals in devastating fashion. MEI held a double-digit lead in the first half, but were out-scored 18-0 in the fourth quarter and fell 61-43.
“This year, we said, ‘We’re not going to make those mistakes,'” Eagles coach Rick Thiessen said afterward.
“We did have a few mistakes, but we recovered.”
Thiessen was pleased with the offensive decision-making of his two star post players, Ratzlaff and Claggett, and both had monster outings – player of the game Ratzlaff notched 26 points and 20 rebounds, while Claggett had 26 points and 11 boards.
The heavily favoured Hawks faced a surprisingly stiff test from the Terrace-based Kermodes, who hung around for most of the first half against the No. 3 seed.
But Mouat pulled away after halftime, allowing head coach Paula Thompson to give her bench players extended playing time.
“All our kids got about 20 minutes or so, so everybody was pretty pumped,” Thompson said.
“They came out guns blazing – they have two kids who are pretty strong,” she added. “Good for them – they’re coming from Terrance and they’re playing in the big show. They gave us a good battle.
“We just needed to find our groove.”
The Hawks got 21 points from Penielle M’Bikata, and 20 apiece from twin sisters Alicia and Cierra Roufosse.
Mouat and MEI advance to the quarter-finals on Thursday – the Hawks take on the Riverside Rapids at 6:15 p.m., while the Eagles face the Brookswood Bobcats at 8 p.m.
AA GIRLS: KNIGHTS, HURRICANES FALL IN FIRST ROUND
Both local teams in the AA draw tasted defeat on Wednesday.
The No. 11-seeded Abby Christian Knights were on the verge of an upset, but suffered a heartbreaking 49-48 loss to the No. 6 Vernon Panthers.
The No. 8 Rick Hansen Hurricanes were on the receiving end of a mild upset – the Fraser Valley champs fell 62-53 to the No. 9 York House Tigers.
The Knights’ tilt with the Panthers was, in the words of head coach Tym Berger, “a barn-burner,” as the two teams traded the lead throughout the game and were tied 48-48 late in the fourth quarter.
Vernon took the lead when one of their players went 1-for-2 from the free throw line in the dying seconds, and Abby Christian’s last chance was off an inbounds play with two seconds remaining. Moriah Konynenbelt – who had a game-high 17 points and 20 rebounds en route to player of the game honours – had a shot to win it from the elbow of the key, but it rimmed out at the buzzer.
“It was really hard on our girls, especially our Grade 12 girls,” Berger said. “There were a few tears shed in the locker room afterward.”
That said, the Knights turned in an effort they could be legitimately proud of. They played Vernon at a tournament earlier in the year, and lost by 25 points. That they came so close to an upset in the rematch says a great deal about their character.
“It hurts now, because the best we can do is ninth, and we know we can compete,” Berger said. “But the girls played some really gutsy basketball.”
The Hurricanes got 12 points from Revine Gill and 10 apiece from Sukhi Birk, Simran Sidhu and Jasmine Gill. But they were unable to recover after finding themselves down 32-20 at the half.
In consolation-side action on Thursday, Hansen takes on J.L. Crowe at 8:30 a.m. at the Langley Events Centre fieldhouse, followed by the Knights vs. Lambrick Park at 10 a.m.