Cinderella’s invitation to the provincial AAAA varsity boys’ basketball championship was most certainly not lost in the mail.
Saturday was a day filled with unlikely results, as three of the top four seeds suffered upset losses in the quarter-finals.
Sturgeon Heights, the 11th seed in the 12-team tournament, opened the day by shocking No. 3 Oak Park, 95-85. The Raiders had been the top-ranked team in the province for most of February, and were a favourite to reach the semis.
"It felt like a boxing match," said Huskies head coach Stephen Tackie, "with two guys that just kept on hitting each other."
Tackie said his team went into the game with "no doubt" it could compete against a squad that it had lost to in all three previous meetings.
"I feel really good for the kids," Tackie said. "This will help them remember that when something doesn’t go your way, you just keep playing for the love of the game and your teammates."
Eighth-seeded Sisler pulled off the day’s other major upset in the nightcap, edging top-seeded St. Paul’s 81-76.
Only the defending champs, third-seeded Garden City, took care of business in the round of eight. The Fighting Gophers beat John Taylor 91-74 to keep their hopes of a repeat alive, and will face Sturgeon Heights in one of Friday’s semifinals.
Garden City coach Phil Penner said watching Oak Park go down in the previous game could have had a positive or negative effect on his club.
"Our guys saw that game, and they could either tighten up or make sure things go the other way," he said. "We knew John Taylor was a good team and it was going to be a good game."
With three provincial titles in the last six years, Penner is no stranger to preparing for semifinal and final games in packed university gyms.
"It’s always defence and rebounding that’s going to win the game," he said. "If you win the rebounding battle, most times you’re going to win the game. Shooting in a big atmosphere like that, you never know. You just hope you go on one spurt."
The biggest difference for this year’s Gophers is their added depth. Penner can use as many as 10 players to avoid foul trouble and to wear down opponents.
The final piece of the semifinal puzzle is the Kelvin Clippers, the tournament’s fifth seed. Kelvin turned a 14-point third quarter deficit into an 11-point fourth quarter lead, eventually defeating No. 4 Kildonan East 71-64.
Clippers coach Don Lamont said a change in strategy dictated by the score proved to be the difference in the game.
"Our (full-court) press really worked for us," he said. "We didn’t play well in the third quarter, but we were mentally tough in the fourth."
The Clippers, a young team that graduated 12 players a year ago, used their bench extensively from start to finish, using nine players to eventually wear the Reivers down.
Kelvin will face Sisler in the first semifinal, Friday at 6 p.m. at Investors Group Athletic Centre. Garden City-Sturgeon Heights will follow at 8 p.m.
The boys’ final is slated for 8 p.m. on Monday.