It took a leap of faith for the Garden City Fighting Gophers varsity boys’ basketball team to believe they’d successfully defend their provincial championship.
Especially when they went into halftime of the title game 20 points in arrears of a Sisler Spartans team that was shooting only slightly less accurately than God Himself.
No matter where they were on the floor or how close they were to a Garden City defender, the Spartans would heave the ball up and it would invariably find the hoop.
But when the Gophers went to the locker room to regroup at the half, trailing 59-39, the message from head coach Phil Penner was patience and perseverance.
"We knew that team wasn’t going to shoot hot for the whole game like that," said Grade 12 point guard Josh Magpantay, one of the tournament all-stars. "We knew the momentum would shift somehow."
Penner said he wanted to cut the lead to 15 points halfway through the third quarter, and to single digits by the start of the fourth. His team blew those goals out of the water, lopping 15 points off the Sisler lead in the third quarter to make it anyone’s game.
Tynan Reyes, Garden City’s Grade 12 big man and the tournament MVP, said the team drew from a similar comeback earlier in the season against St. Paul’s, in which the Gophers stormed back from a 24-point deficit and had a shot to win the game.
"We came out hoping they wouldn’t shoot the same in the second half, and they didn’t," Reyes said.
Magpantay hit the biggest shot of a back-and-forth final quarter, a three-pointer that gave the Gophers a two-point lead in the final minute. Garden City hung on for an 87-84 win, and celebrated its fourth title in seven years.
"I’ve been trusted to take shots for the team in close games," said Magpantay, a Garden City resident. "It means a lot to me. We put in so much work over the course of the season. It shows that hard work pays off."
Magpantay and Reyes both said it felt different to win this year’s title as the veterans on the team rather than the young guys.
"I think we did a great job last year," Reyes said, "but we did a better job this year. It was two different teams. Last year was more aggressive and defensive-oriented, and this year we have more offensive threats and push the ball more."
He added that he hoped the back-to-back titles would one day land the team in the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame.
Magpantay said the prolonged success of the school’s program is a result of the older players taking an interest in newcomers and helping them develop into key members of the team.
Garden City’s Byron Oduca was also named a tournament all-star, along with Sisler’s Joseph Medrano, Chris Demoleon-Bartaley of Sturgeon Heights and Kelvin’s Dikan Gjuric.