The Garden City Fighting Gophers plan to 'go-pher it' and it's going to be tough to stop them.
Garden City, the defending champion of the Wesmen Classic high school boys tournament, opened the 2012 Classic on Thursday with a decisive 86-49 win over the John Taylor Pipers at the University of Winnipeg Duckworth Centre.
Garden City, also the defending provincial AAAA boys' basketball champion, won the Brandon Sun Spartan Invitational touranment earlier this month. The Wesmen Classic tournament is Winnipeg's first major boys' tournament of the season and features seven of the provinces top-10 teams. Garden City, ranked No. 1, has won four of the last five Classics with the Oak Park Raiders winning in 2009.
"This is the big stage locally, there's nothing else like it right now, and everybody is going to be here, there's a lot of alumni out and it's a big deal for every kid here," said Garden City head coach Phil Penner who played his bench in the fourth quarter to support dominant post and provincial team member Tynan Reyes who led all players with 35 points.
"Every year in high school is a different year, you return a handful of kids but the rest are all new, so we have to figure out what kind of group we have and what works for this team," Penner said.
"Last year was great, we won it, nothing will ever take that away, but now we've got to go get another one."
Twice in years the Gophers won the Wesmen Classic (2008, 2011), they also won provincial titles.
Garden City now advances to Saturday's semifinal at 4 p.m. against the St. Paul's Crusaders.
Oak Park, ranked No. 2 in Manitoba, will meet Kildonan East today at 4 p.m. in the first semifinal.
The university men's portion of the 46th annual Wesmen Classic will begin today. The host Wesmen play at 6:30 p.m. against Keyano College of Fort McMurray, Alta., and the Brandon Bobcats will play at 2 p.m. against North Dakota's Dickinson State. Two other games will be played at noon and 8:30 p.m.
One of the most exciting players in this year's high school tournament is Grade 12 guard and provincial team member Junior Sesay, called the "senior sensation" in the Raiders' team information. Sesay led the Raiders in their opening game, an 85-77 win over the Glenlawn Lions, with 32 points. He scored 21 of those points in the second half, including a three-point bucket at the end of the third quarter to answer back a three-pointer drained by Glenlawn's Austin Arsenault.
"It's a great tournament because everybody who loves basketball comes out to watch," Sesay said. "It's tradition at Christmas time and it's a place to really show what you can do and what your team can do. It gives you a chance to show all your strengths as a team but also to see what other teams are doing."
St. Paul's is in the tournament for the first time in four years. As head coach Jeff Laping is away on vacation, assistant Joe Kwan led the team to make sure it could participate.
"This is pretty much the tournament that sets the standard for how the season is going to go," said St. Paul's guard Justus Alleyn, also a provincial team player. He led his team with 28 points in its victory over Kelvin. "This is the biggest tournament to win in so far as confidence going into the rest of the season, so getting this win to move on was pretty important to us."
Though Glenlawn lost its first game, head coach Jon Wolfe said his team is benefiting from the chance to compete with the top-ranked teams in the eight-team tournament.
"They choose teams (to invite to the Classic) based on projections (for the season) so we were honoured to get the invitation," Wolfe said. "Our group of Grade 12 boys on this team have been quite successful here in the past. They won the Grade 10 junior varsity Wesmen Classic and we finished in fifth place last year. I'm satisfied with the way we competed today against one of the top teams in the province (Oak Park) with one of the top players (Sesay)."
In the final of the boys' junior varsity division played on Thursday night, the Kildonan East Reivers won the championship title defeating the Glenlawn Lions 60-54. Kildonan East was led by Dharmjit Dhillon, who scored 17 points and was named the tournament's most valuable player.
Oak Park Raiders 85 Glenlawn Lions 77
OAK PARK: Junior Sesay 32, Casey Blanca 15
GLENLAWN: Austin Arsenault 19, Evan Bruce 19
A tight battle in the first half where Oak Park came away with a 47-43 halftime lead, the Raiders pulled away after opening the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run. Glenlawn, which had four different players combine to score 12 three-point baskets, could not stop Sesay. Sesay scored, blocked shots, rebounded and effectively drove the hoop.
Kildonan East Reivers 70 Sturgeon Heights Huskies 65
KILDONAN EAST: Ayob Ayob 26, Arshdeep Gill 12, Dominic Scarlett 12
STURGEON HEIGHTS: Ryan Raycroft 24, Steven Williamson 14
The only unranked team in the tournament, Sturgeon battled hard for three quarters leading 50-47. In the final quarter, Kildonan East took advantage of the Huskies' foul trouble as the Reivers went 8-for-10 at the free throw line to earn the win.
St. Paul's Crusaders 70 Kelvin Clippers 65
ST. PAUL'S: Justus Alleyn 28, Malik Irwin 11
KELVIN: Liam Haime 16, Ivan Paskvalin 16
There was Justus on the court and that was exactly what St. Paul's needed. The Clippers battled back from behind to tie the game 53-53 with six minutes left. Justus Alleyn raced end-to-end to score a the go-ahead points on a layup and scored eight points from the free throw line in the last two minutes to help lift his team to victory.
Garden City Fighting Gophers 86 John Taylor Pipers 49
GARDEN CITY: Tynan Reyes 35, Josh Magpantay 18
JOHN TAYLOR: Kuet Kuet 14, Derrick McIntyre 11
It was a rematch of the two schools who played in last year's provincial final but that was the end of similarities as both are different teams this year. The Gophers, who led 40-29 at the half, dominated every facet of the game. Gophers' 6-foot-6 post Tynan Reyes owned the court and the boards while the Gophers' speedy guards forced an uptempo game. Pipers' guard Kuet Kuet, also a provincial team player, kept his team in the game as long as he could.