Juniors coming together down the stretch
By Darren Lum
It always seems like a shame that a basketball game comes down to the last shot.
Particularly when a team works as hard as the Red Hawks junior boys’ basketball team did to not only tie it up late, but to put themselves in a position to win against the Kawartha High School League’s best, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School Titans on Wednesday, Feb. 10 in Haliburton.
However there is no question about the drama of the buzzer beater, whether for the home or the away team.
Outside of a short 24-23 lead in the third quarter, the junior boys were battling from behind.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Titans were leading 34-26 and appeared in command.
Haliburton remained calm and collected, moving the ball around in the offensive zone, looking for open players and stayed patient on defence, working on eliminating the lanes, getting or forcing turnovers without committing a foul.
In the third quarter, Hawks forward Cam Little shone on both ends of the floor, creating turnovers and grabbing rebounds while point guard Sam Longo sank a triple to draw the team to within three points, 34-31. This effort was part of a 12-5 run for Haliburton in the fourth.
In the end forward Jordan Lapierre worked his way to the charity stripe and sank one of two, tying the game for the juniors with 11 seconds left in the game. On the second free throw Lapierre followed up on his own miss with the rebound and a 10-footer that hit the front of the rim and bounced into the net for 38-36 lead with less than three seconds left.
The visitors quickly inbounded and got the ball to their top scorer Chris Flynn, who led all players with 21 points. Under heavy pressure, Flynn moved across the width of the court and put up an awkward shot, well beyond the arc, that fell followed by the buzzer and the hush of the partisan crowd. Titans won 39-38.
Hawks coach Paul Longo said this game is a showcase of the team’s promise being fulfilled.
“The work that all the boys have put in is finally coming together and they believe in themselves. The confidence is there. It was a tough way to lose. A three-pointer with no time left on the clock. It banks in. What are you going to do? It’s just the basketball gods weren’t on our side today,” he said. “I’m proud of the defence, patience on offence. We made very, very few mistakes in that game. We didn’t really turn the ball over very much. Give them credit. They’re a very good team too, but it proved to our guys we’re right there. We’re right there with everybody else.”
Just three days before, the Hawks played the Titans on the road and had been easily handled, losing 35-20.
“We just had scoring [troubles] again, but played great defence,” he said. “So to have this game again against these guys and push them right to the brink and to lose by a point on a last second prayer from three-point land is, I think, a victory for us as much as it could be.”
Haliburton started the game slowly. They steadily improved, spreading the ball with greater efficiency and forcing the Titans to take tougher shots.
After the first quarter, Longo reminded his team to stay focused on what has been taught all season.
“Stick with the plan and keep playing the D. Wait for our opportunities and be a little more patient on offence and things will happen,” he said.
The Hawks came in with momentum initially built from a weekend tournament in Petawawa. They started that tournament with a dramatic 27-26 win against Whiddifield Secondary School from North Bay. Sam Longo sank a three-pointer to win the game with seven seconds left. Haliburton erased a 12-point deficit at the half on the strength of defensive adjustment.
Their next game was against Immaculata High School of Ottawa, who is considered one of the best teams in Ontario, Longo said.
The Hawks were blown out, but Longo was proud of his team for playing up to their potential.
The Red and White closed out the tournament with a solid effort against Arnprior. Only down a point at the half, Haliburton was worn down by Arnprior’s larger players. They eventually lost by several points.
“We’re carrying that momentum over into these games,” he said. “Now we’re in tight games. We had a bunch of tight games where we have a chance to win.”
Longo did not have a shortage of pride for how the entire team, not just his top scorers, was ready to play and how it executed. The entire 12-boy roster was part of this close loss, coach Longo said.
“I’m proud of the guys. It’s as simple as that. Proud of the guys. Great game. It could have gone either way. It was just a good hard fought game,” he said.