After so many close games throughout the tournament, the question coming into this final for South Kamloops was if those brushes with elimination would build the character necessary to win a provincial championship, or signs of a much bigger problem.
On Saturday night, the Titans showed what a team can do when they go through game after game of tense, character building moments.
“At the time of those I wasn’t because I thought we might wear out because that’s what happened last year” said Kamloops coach Bryce McMillan on his team’s road to the final. “But our guys had no quit in them.”
To start, Byrne Creek came out aggressive, driving to the basket every opportunity they got. They took the initial lead that way, but after a Nick Sarai three South Kam went on a massive 19-4 run to end the quarter. In the second, Byrne Creek showed the resiliency from their last two games as they managed to cut the lead to just nine after two. Daniel Chan’s corner three and a Martin Djunga spin move that resulted in two electrified the pro Bulldogs crowd and spurred their team on.
As the second half began, Djunga drained another three and then muscled his way inside for the bucket. Although Sarai was guarding him tightly, he wasn’t able to truly stop him. Byrne Creek continued where they left off in the second, as this time Djunga acted as a distributor, feeding the ball to Bithow Wan on the inbound.
The fourth was easily the most intense and pressure packed quarter of the entire AAA tournament. Djunga tied it at 59 to start with an amazing coast to coast basket. That would be the last two points scored for nearly three minutes, as Kamloops zone defence as well as Byrne’s hybrid zone defence played to a draw.
The stalemate was broken by Reid Jansen, whose deep three gave his time the lead. Djunga on a solo effort would eventually tie it, setting things up for the eventual turning point. With just over a minute to go, a no-look pass from Jansen would find Sam Jean wide open in the corner for three. He would make it, giving Kamloops a four point lead that they would not let go of.
“We got a lot of guys that can put the ball in the hoop” said McMillan on the play. “Reid was more a facilitator tonight, and that was no problem. Nick Sarai was going off, Ripley was playing well. That was a great pass to have confidence in his teammates.”
For Kamloops, this game was a culmination of nearly a year of hard work and dedication. After leading nearly all of the final last year, they vowed to come back this year and win it.
Needless to say, they pulled it off.
“It means absolutely everything” McMillan said on finally getting that provincial championship banner. “It’s not just last year. [Tim] and I have been at this thing for eight years now. It’s awesome.”
For Byrne Creek, this final will be a bitter pill to swallow. They got into foul trouble early — three of their starters had three fouls at the half — and both Titgol Jok and Bithow Wan fouled out of the game. If the calls had gone the other way, there’s a chance the Bulldogs would have been champions.
But Kamloops gets to taste victory in 2018. And after what happened last year, it must be the sweetest drink of all.