From being on the verge of suffering an upset loss and seeing their season end prematurely to provincial champions – that has been the roller coaster ride for the G.W. Graham Grizzlies.
Just over two weeks ago, on another court at the same venue, the Grizzlies were five minutes away from not even qualifying for the provincial tournament as their season was on the verge of a premature ending. The Grizzlies trailed by a dozen points with five minutes to play in the Eastern Valley zone semi-final against the Brookswood Bobcats. A win would clinch the team a spot in the BC High School 3A Boys Tournament while a loss would end their season.
“We take a time-out, they sit down, and I don’t have to say anything,” recalled Grizzlies head coach Jake Mouritzen. “(One of the players) Jude Hall says: ‘we got this.’
Following the time-out, Graham rattled off a game-closing 20-3 run (which included a pair of three-pointers from Hall) for the 66-61 victory, punching their ticket to the provincial championships.
On Saturday night, back at Langley Events Centre, the Grizzlies capped off an incredible four-day run which saw them knock off the No. 2 seed Vernon Panthers in Friday’s semi-final round and then capture the school’s first-ever provincial basketball title with a 79-67 victory over the No. 1 ranked Duchess Park Condors. Mouritzen has been at the helm of the program since the school opened its doors in 2006 and its previous best finish was a bronze medal at the 2A level.
“I am going to be honest, I never thought I was going to get this feeling,” said a teary-eyed Mouritzen, his voice quivering. “This is my 20th season and I have been in a lot of big games and have come out on the wrong end a lot of times. I never thought I was going to get this day, so it is pretty awesome.”
It was a balanced attack for the Grizzlies with five players in double figures.
Clay Hurtz (who would be selected Most Valuable Player as well as Championship Player of the Game) had 24 points, a dozen rebounds, four assists and three steals while Matthias Klim (selected the Best Defensive Player) had seven blocked shots, along with 14 points and eight rebounds. Cairo Almarez (17 points), Zach Klim (10 points, 15 rebounds) and Hall (11 points, five rebounds, five assists) also reaching double figures.
What prompted Hall’s confidence at that crucial juncture in his team’s season?
“I have been playing with these guys since Grade 7. We are a tight-knit family, I knew no matter what happened, we were going to grind it out together. I trusted the guys around me and knew if we ran out sets and moved the ball well, we were going to get open shots and we were going to hit,” he said. “We live for big moments like this.”
The Condors led at the quarter-mark by two points but were down seven at the half and 16 with a quarter to play. They would get as close as 10 points with two minutes remaining but ran out of time in their comeback bid.
Duchess Park was led by Caleb Lyons’ 25 points and 24 courtesy of Jackson Kuc, but after shooting well over 40 per cent in their first three games, hit on just 30.2 per cent of their field goal attempts in the final.
Condors coach Jordan Yu felt his team didn’t have their best game with the Grizzlies boasting six-foot-10 and six-foot-nine twin brothers Matthias and Zach Klim, who altered the Duchess Park game plan.
“A couple of blocked shots early really changed how we were attacking the hoop. We slowed down, we walked the ball up and there were able to set up that zone. Our key to the game was it had to be a track meet if we wanted to beat them,” Yu said
The teams had played once earlier in the season with Duchess Park racing out to the 68-31 half-time lead before winning by 20.
“We put together a defence we have never run, a hybrid zone-man, we played a 2-3 zone the entire game but masked it as man-to-man and we never let a guy sit in a space, Jordan Yu is one of the best coaches I know and I knew we were going to have to outcoach him today,” Mouritzen explained.
“We had to give them looks so they couldn’t run sets and couldn’t get open. They still got their buckets. 9 (Caleb Lyons) is a phenomenal player and the only time they hit those shots was when we didn’t execute.”
“Coming into this season, our biggest worry was our defence and every single guy has improved and I have got to put it in print, Mark Rahmalo is my assistant coach and it is his first year … I luckily stumbled upon him this year as a TOC (teacher on call). He is the best defensive coach in this province one year in and we wouldn’t have done this without him.”
For the Condors, it is another year of coming agonizingly close. In 2019, a last-second shot sunk the team in the semi-final to the eventual champion. Duchess Park would recover to win bronze.
Yu said last year was tougher because of the way they lost.
“This year, we got outplayed. It still sucks but all credit to G.W. Graham because they won it,” he said.
The Sir Charles Tupper Tigers edged the Vernon Panthers 68-65 in the third-place game.
All-stars and Awards:
Isaiah Ornrik (Vernon), Luke Tobias (Sir Charles Tupper), Zach Klim (G.W. Graham), Caleb Lyons (Duchess Park) and Jackson Kuc (Duchess Park) were named First Team All-Stars.
The Second Team All-Stars were Zach Smith (Vernon), Dennis Laconsay (Sir Charles Tupper), Emir Zejnulahovic (Duchess Park), Iman Ostavari (Pitt Meadows) and Connor Lewis (Duchess Park).
The Mark R. Isfeld Ice were selected the Most Sportsmanlike Team.