With every drop of sweat and ounce of will already spilled out on the court, the St. Paul's Crusaders basketball squad dug down deep and found a little more.
In the stunning final of the AAAA provincial championship game on Monday night, it was enough. Enough to claw the game back from the Glenlawn Lions. Enough to break free late in the game, when the Lions roar finally faded. Enough to win, 85-71. Enough to claim St. Paul's first Manitoba AAAA high school basketball banner, dating all the way back to 1969. They will add it to their football and hockey banners from this season, to make it a three-sport sweep.
"We talked about it from the beginning of the year, with all the hockey and football players, that we wanted to win everything this year," said towering Crusaders forward Billy Yaworsky, who finished with a staggering 25 points and 16 rebounds and was named the tournament MVP. "It feels great... as our first provincial championship. It's never been done before, so it's a new feeling for us."
Early in the game, it almost looked like the win might come easy. The Crusaders stalked the Lions at the start, taking a 17-6 lead after the first quarter. But then, just when it seemed the first half would pound a stake into their championship dreams, the Glenlawn Lions came unleashed.
The Lions roared back in the second quarter, savaged their opponents and put up a gaudy 31 points to claw their way into a lead. Sophomore guard Keiran Zziwa, who put up just two points in the opening frame, caught fire in the second and finished the half with 15 points. In the dying seconds of the half, he darted into the Crusaders defence and popped the ball into the net for a 37-36 lead.
In the stands, cheers of glee exploded from the sea of Glenlawn red that filled one side of the stands, drums pounding so loud that eardrums trembled.
In the third quarter and the first minute of the fourth, the teams dug their heels into their trenches, racing down the court and trading punches. One team or another would scratch out a lead of one or two points, then lose it again. The Crusaders scored 18 points in the third quarter, the Lions close behind with 16.
Then the Crusaders finally broke free. Where it started: Yaworsky potted a deuce to take a 58-55 lead. Moments later, his three-point shot made a perfect swoosh to give his team some open water, leading 61-55. "I knew they were going to hang around, so someone had to step up, and take control of the game, and I felt it was my time to do it, and I had to step up," Yaworsky said. "That's when we started to taste it as a team, and I was really excited about it."
Shortly thereafter, his teammate, Alec Bernier, followed suit, putting up a pretty three-point bomb that kept the Crusaders ahead. That sequence seemed to turn the final tide in St. Paul's favour as the Lions started to scramble. Meanwhile, the Crusaders pounded back, stretching the lead as the final minutes of the game ticked down. The final buzzer was drowned out by the roar of St. Paul's fans.
For the Lions, it was a worthy battle to the end, led by Zziwa who finished with 24 points, four boards and four steals. "I'm really proud of my boys this season," Glenlawn coach Jonathan Wolfe said. "All the credit in the world to St. Paul's... very deserving champion. I thought the St. Paul's boys stayed composed and had a great fourth quarter and really separated from us."