The Oak Park Raiders’ No. 1 ranking, their resiliency and ultimately their resolve were put to the test by a familiar foe, a test they passed honourably led by two veterans of their leadership core in the dying moments Monday night.
Leading by three with less than 30 seconds to go, Raiders forward Wyatt Tait drove to the basket. His layup attempt missed, bouncing off the rim and out, but guard Chris Chang was there to tip the rebound into the net. It was Oak Park’s 23rd offensive board of the game, and the dagger they needed to secure a 78-73 victory and their second varsity boys provincial basketball championship in three years.
"He has my back," Tait, who was handed MVP honours, said following the game.
The Grade 12 student, who will join the University of Manitoba Bisons basketball program next fall, scored 24 points and added 15 rebounds, four of those coming on offence.
Chang finished with 13 points, seven of which came in the fourth quarter.
"I’m most happy for our seniors," Raiders coach Jon Lundgren said. "Cole Adamson, Wyatt (Tait), Shakir (Harris), (Chris Chang and Cam MacNeil), our whole starting five. They’ve been here for four years now. They’ve stuck together as a group. If they didn’t practise, they always listened. I know it’s hard, it’s like listening to your mom or dad every day getting on you. They reacted well to it. I’m really happy for those guys."
Tait, the only member from the 2015 team that beat the Crusaders in that year’s provincial final, said this one was just a bit sweeter.
"It’s my last chance… my last game in an Oak Park jersey," Tait said, MVP trophy in hand. "It’s pretty special."
There was nothing between the Raiders and St. Paul’s Crusaders after three quarters.
The scoreboard read 58-58, due in large part to St. Paul’s outscoring the Raiders 25-15 in the quarter and nullifying a 10-point deficit after the eventual champions looked the part of a top-ranked team in the first half.
"We were out-rebounded by 18 in the first half and gave up just offensive rebounds in the third quarter," Crusaders coach Jeff Laping. "Unfortunately, their last play there (in the fourth quarter), they got the O-board they needed."
The Crusaders wouldn’t die. After Oak Park went on a 13-2 run to start the fourth quarter, St. Paul’s began another push for the summit, coming to within three points of tying the game before Chang’s timely tip sealed St. Paul’s fate.
"It’s pretty tough, as you can imagine," a teary-eyed Mark Tachie said.
The Crusaders’ Grade 11 point guard scored 26 points, including 10 in his team’s third-quarter comeback. "We kind of just waited until the end and we waited too late."
The win meant a sweep for Oak Park’s varsity basketball programs after the Raiders girls took home the provincial crown in an 81-67 win over the Vincent Massey Trojans earlier in the night.
— Scott Billeck