With a provincial title on the line against their city rivals, head coach Dave Bron resorted to a game of rock, paper, scissors.
Bron’s Unity Christian Flames were locked in a tight, back-and-forth battle with the Highroad Academy Knights in an all-Chilliwack championship final on Saturday afternoon at the BC High School 1A Boys Basketball Tournament at Langley Events Centre.
The Flames (the third seed) were facing the top-ranked Knights for the fifth time with Unity Christian losing all four previous matchups, including the most recent game a few weeks ago when Highroad Academy thumped them by 29 points in the Eastern Valley zone championship game. Previously, the margins of defeat had been three points (in overtime), two points and 10 points.
Bron called a timeout but rather than lecture the team about x’s and o’s or chastise them for a missed assignment, the message was to take a deep breath and play rock, paper, scissors.
“Mentally, we needed to snap out of it,” he said. “Three or four guys started smiling and then we were like ‘here’s what we have to do’.”
“You need players to make plays and they listened.”
The result was a 65-61 victory for Unity Christian and the school’s first provincial banner. For Highroad Academy it was the second straight season they found the podium wining bronze in 2019 and now silver.
The Flames came out hot in the final, leading by 10 points late in the first quarter before their shots stopped falling and the Knights took a one-point lead at the half. Highroad Academy would continue to roll in the third, building a seven-point advantage with half a period to play.
The team’s deep ball (1-for-10 in the first half) also started falling as they hit three triples in each of the third and fourth quarters and finished the half a combined 6-for-13 from beyond the arc with Caleb Graham, Keegan Schuurman and Colton Vander Kooi knocking down a pair apiece.
Buoyed by the outside shot finally dropping, the Flames were up 44-40 after three quarters and never trailed again, leading by nine minutes with just under two and a half minutes to play.
Graham led the Flames with 18 points and grabbed six rebounds with four assists and a pair of steals as well. Schuurman had 15 points, four rebounds and two steals. The six-foot-four Grade 12 forward would be named Most Valuable Player, averaging nearly 17 points and just over 10 rebounds per game.
“It is surreal. We have been working for this for so long, being the underdog, it just feels amazing,” Schuurman said afterwards.
And while the offence heating up at the right time helped, the Unity Christian defence (especially in the semi-final and championship game) also played a major factor.
In Friday’s victory, the Flames held a Kelowna Christian team which averaged 90 points the first two games to a mere 34. Highroad Academy entered Saturday’s championship final at nearly 91 points per game and again the Flames held the offence relatively in check.
Bron’s defensive strategy has been for his players to be aggressive and trust in one another.
“It took a while in the season for us to leave our own man and trust there was a guy behind us to help us out, but once it clicked, we were a beast defensively. It paid off,” Schuurman said.
“Just for the boys to see that hard work does pay off and taking hard coaching pays off and doing the uncomfortable pays off. I love those boys, I really do,” Bron said. “They have taken some hard coaching from me and we have worked through some stuff and now we get the reward.”
Highroad Academy coach Mike Shannon was complimentary in defeat and admitted beating the same opponent five times in five tries in one season is a tough task.
“They were flying high, they played really, really good,” he said of the Flames. “My guys played their hearts out so we will take it as it comes.”
The Knights were led by Elijah Grimard’s 30 points and 10 rebounds. He also had three steals and two blocked shots.
In the bronze medal game, Kelowna Christian defeated Fernie 88-56.
Awards and All-Stars:
Unity Christian’s Colby Vander Kooi was named the Best Defensive Player while Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay took home the Most Sportsmanlike Team award.
The Flames’ Wilclair Neufeld (three points, three assists and four steals) was the Championship Player of the Game.
Indy Hallett (Kelowna Christian), Elijah Grimard (Highroad Christian), Caleb Graham (Unity Christian), Dawson Hartskemp (Highroad Academy) and Aidan Morris (Highroad Academy) were First Team All-Stars.
The Second Team All-Stars were Cameron Kerslake (Barriere), Asher Hannemann (Fernie), Devan Boyko (Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay), Jake Sabbagh (Kelowna Christian) and Colton Vander Kooi (Unity Christian).