The Oak Park Raiders and Garden City Fighting Gophers appear to be on a collision course. The teams have shared the provincial AAAA boys basketball title evenly over the past four years. The Raiders wore the crown in 2009-10, and 2006-07. Sandwiched between those two titles, the Fighting Gophers were the kings of the hill in 2008-09 and 2007-08.
The Raiders also won the Wesmen Classic in the 2009, but the Gophers are looking to reclaim it after winning in 2007 and 2008.
Monday night at the 44th annual Wesmen Classic high school boy's tournament, the Gophers won their opening game with a 79-68 decision over the Daniel McIntyre Maroons, and the Raiders won their opener 75-72 over the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes.
The Gophers were led by Jordan Kelly with 23 points. Mark Garcia and Chris Benevides each had 17. Kyle Quiejo led the Maroons with 19 points and Mohamed Alor added 10.
Nothing would serve Oak Park better than a championship win this week, announcing to the rest of the province that they're still the cream of the crop, despite the retirement of coach Randy Kusano at the end of last season.
Now coached by Jon Lundgren, and with AAAA MVP Elliot Taylor still in the lineup, they look as though they've adjusted to the new system well.
Taylor, who played down the coaching change, set the tone at the Duckworth Centre Monday with a 26-point performance while Junior Sesay had 17 and John Kiesman added 12.
"They both teach the same thing," said Taylor, who was named the player of the game. "Mr. Lundgren has been around Mr. Kusano for a number of years so they know each other well."
The Buckeyes got 23-point performances from Jordan Barendregt and Jamar Farley. Steven Trefi had 10.
"It was a hell of a game," said Taylor following the final buzzer. "They came out and played really hard. I wasn't expecting it to be that tight, and that's one of the reasons it was so close. We weren't expecting that, so next time we'll have to come out with a better attitude."
Taylor said the defence made the major difference. "They came down (the court), we got the blocked shots, and rebounds."
Of course, the Kelvin Clippers and Sturgeon Heights Huskies might have something to say about who rules this year's Classic.
In the first game of the day, the Clippers rode the red-hot shooting of Aaron Rodel, a 6-foot-1 forward, as the player of the game scored 14 points in a 77-43 win over the University of Winnipeg Collegiate Wesmen.
Jordan Ankrah and Stephen Jones each had 14 for the Clippers, while the Wesmen got 13 points from both Brandon Murdoch and Brett Nowrang. Eric Friesen added 10 for the U of W.
The Clippers will take on Garden City in today's 4 p.m. semifinal. The other semifinal goes Wednesday at 4 p.m., when Oak Park faces the Huskies, who beat the Fort Richmond Centurions 77-57.
"I had a pretty OK game," said A.J. Basi, who drained 25 points for the Huskies.
"Fort Richmond is a pretty tough team," added Basi, a 5-foot-10 guard. "We figured they'd be high-pressure, so we got the control at the start and played our game. Our game plan was to run the ball. They aren't as deep as we are."
Zach Regert added 11 points for Sturgeon Heights and Eben Rawluk had 10. Emmanuel Lomuro had 13 to lead the Centurions.
The university teams swing into action today at noon when the Lakehead Thunderwolves take on the Brandon University Bobcats.
The Minot State Beavers play the Saskatchewan Huskies in the second game at 2 p.m.
At 6 p.m., the host Winnipeg Wesmen face the McMaster Marauders, and at 8 p.m., the Manitoba Bisons take on the Jamestown Jimmies of North Dakota.