Last year the Nechako Valley Vikes had a team that was built to win the North Central zone double-A boys basketball championship but they never got to prove it.
The pandemic was the ultimate party-pooper.
This time around the Vikes look like intent on making up for lost time to earn their ticket to the provincial championship.
Friday night at Shas Ti Kelly Road gym they booked themselves a spot in the zone final with a 76-47 win over the D.P. Todd Trojans, handing the Trojans their first loss of the four-team tournament.
Vikes point guard Tanton Mueller was a Grade 9 on that 2020 senior team that finished third in the zone and he couldn’t help but feel cheated when he and his veteran-laden team had the rug pulled out from under their feet when the season was cancelled last year.
“With COVID and everything it’s good to be back playing basketball and it’s good to see our Grade 12s out there too,” said the Grade 11 Mueller, who picked up 18 points. “I missed a big year and we’re playing for our previous Grade 12s who didn’t get a year. We probably would have won zones, I think.”
The Vikes got the jump on the Trojans early and Mueller ran in for his first bucket off the opening tip-off. They came out hustling, inspired by Mueller’s athletic shake-and-bake approaches to the hoop and Jeremy Pagdin’s hot shooting hand and his hunger to chase rebounds and had a 21-9 lead to work with after 10 minutes. The boys from Vanderhoof kept dictating the pace with 18 more points in the second quarter, holding a 39-16 edge at the half.
The Trojans started hitting their shots with more regularity in the third quarter. The McLeod twins, Makin and Kalen, and sweet-shooting Krystien Aldana matched the Vikes point-for-point but couldn’t make a dent in the deficit until the fourth quarter, but by then it was too late.
Pagdin, the Vikes’ shooting guard, continued to produce until coach Gary Simrose took him out of the game in the fourth quarter with 34 points under his belt. Pagdin, forward Tristan Ellis, guard Brendon McKee and forward Tim Teichroeb are the only remaining player ties from that 2020 team.
“Without playing last year, last year would have been a good year to go to provs, so this year we’re going to get it, we’re going,” said Pagdin.
“We fought hard this game. That team (the Trojans) is young and they’re a bit more inexperienced than we are and I’m glad we could take advantage of that and got a big win. Hopefully we can play even better (in the final Saturday) and close it out and come in first.”
The first final for the zone title is scheduled for a 3:45 p.m. Saturday start. Simrose says he’d like to see his team step up the intensity on defence, knowing they’ll have to be on top of it to have any success if they make it to the 16-team double-A championship in Langley, March 2-5.
“Defensively, we just have a few rotations that are slow, we just aren’t quite as crisp on defence as I’d like them to be,” said Simrose. “They want to go (to provincials), it’s been quite a few years. I think the last time we went was 2018.”
Aldana finished with 17 points to pace the Trojan attack, finishing with three treys in the fourth quarter. Kalen McLeod put up nine points for D.P. Todd.
“They’re a very strong tall team with good shooters and we’re very small and we’re a fairly young team,” said Aldana, a Grade 10 guard, who started playing basketball when he was three. “They’re very aggressive on the press.”
The Vikes won their first game 85-35 over Peter Skene Ogden Eagles of 100 Mile House. D.P. Todd came back from a 24-15 first-quarter deficit to defeat the host Shas Ti Kelly Road Grizzlies 78-58.
The Grizzlies faced a must-win situation Friday afternoon and pounded out an 80-48 win over Peter Skene Ogden.
“We pulled ahead right away, everything was clicking and Parker (Beddington) hit some big shots and we slowly pulled away in the second quarter and never looked back,” said Grizzlies head coach Justin Soles.
Braeden McLachlan shot a game-high 26 points for Shas Ti Kelly Road, while Beddington had 21 and Kristian Janzen picked up 11. Mohamed Omer shot 25 points for the Eagles.
After making his senior team debut in the loss to D.P. Todd, Colby Van Camp, the Grizzlies’ Grade 8 guard, finished with 10 points Friday afternoon and with every point he sank, the Grizzlies bench erupted.
“We kind of needed to win that game to stay in, obviously, it was a really good win for us,” said Beddington. “Everyone was loud, the energy was great. We had some plays where we didn’t do great on defence but instead of keeping our head down we got right back in the game and we didn’t let up for a minute.”
“(Van Camp) is awesome and right now he’s a great player, he just needs to work on his confidence.”
The Grizzlies will play D.P. Todd again Saturday at 8:30 a.m., and the loser if that game will play PSO for bronze at 2 p.m., with the winner advancing to the final against Nechako Valley. A Vikes’ loss would mean a second final will be necessary, Sunday at 10 a.m.