Flames fend off Breakers in thrilling championship final

1A Champions (1 of 1)

This time, there would be no heartbreak for the Unity Christian Flames.

One year ago, the Chilliwack school fell short in the championship game. But on Saturday afternoon, the team found itself back in the title game at the 2024 BC School Sports 1A Boys Basketball Provincial Championships at Langley Events Centre.

In the 2023 title game, the Flames could not hold a fourth-quarter lead, as they were denied in their bid for a third consecutive championship. And on Saturday, the Flames this time found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter against the underdog Gidgalang Kuuyas Naay Breakers from Haida Gwaii, the tournament’s sixth seed who had already dispatched both the No. 3 and No. 2 seeds on their way to the championship game, a first in the history of their program.

Trailing by six entering the fourth quarter, the Flames trimmed the lead and then went on a game-changing 10-2 run (which included an and-1) to pull ahead for good. The Breakers did have a shot at a game-tying 3-pointer, but the ball found the rim instead.

“That fourth quarter was kind of an out-of-body experience,” described Unity Christian head coach David Bron.

The No. 1 seed comes with lofty expectations and Unity Christian was not meeting those.

“When you are ranked first, you expect to play a certain way, and then you don’t, so I could tell the guys were down,” Bron said.

But he aforementioned three-point play proved to be a key turning point in the coach’s eyes.

“My guys finally lit up; it was a grind until then,” the coach explained.

A big key in the victory was the Flames using their significant size advantage – the team has four players between the heights of six-six and six-eight – and the fact they rolled with 10 players, compared to a tenacious Breakers squad which only had seven players hit the floor.

With so much height inside, the Flames dominated the glass with a 79-62 rebounding advantage. That number included 38 offensive rebounds, a number that blew Bron away when he heard the post-game stats.

Offensively, both Most Valuable Player Jay Smiens and Second Team All-Star Ryder Vanderkooi finished with 22 points apiece with Vanderkooi also hauling in 19 rebounds while Smiens had 10. Both players also finished with a pair of blocked shots.

Levi Burton led the Breakers with 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds while Trace Swain had 19 points and eight rebounds. The Breakers’ Greg Puterill was named the Championship Player of the Game with 11 rebounds, 10 rebounds and five steals, as well as a blocked shot.

In the bronze medal game, it was the St. Ann’s Academy Crusaders defeating Maple Ridge Christian 85-71. Maple Ridge Christian was also named the Most Sportsmanlike Team.

Both Gidgalang Kuuyas Naay’s Burton and Temo Laughlin were named to the First Team as all-stars, alongside Unity Christian’s Ryun Fukumoto, St. Ann’s Academy’s Nash Pearce and Maple Ridge Christian’s Carson Barber.

The Second Team All-Stars were Puterill, Vanderkooi, Viv Anderson Francois (St. John’s School), Darion Euastache Peone (Similkameen) and Mauro Lama (St. Ann’s Academy).