Passion powers Huskies in victory over Trojans
Sturgeon Heights to face St. Paul’s for AAAA varsity boy’s provincial crown
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It was a game in which the lead was never more than four points entering the fourth quarter and lived up to the expectations of a final-four matchup. In the end, the Sturgeon Heights Huskies kept their undefeated streak alive.
The top-seeded Huskies, supercharged by a game-high 36 points from senior guard Elijah De La Mothe, escaped the fifth-ranked Vincent Massey Trojans 73-62 in a compelling matchup in the Manitoba High School Athletic Association AAAA boy’s provincial basketball semifinals Thursday at Investors Group Athletic Centre.
Sturgeon Heights punched its ticket to their first championship game, where they will face the second-ranked St. Paul’s Crusaders, who downed the third-seeded Garden City Gophers 87-75 in the second semi-final of the night.
The Huskies and Crusaders will fight for provincial supremacy Monday at IGAC, 8 p.m. tip-off.
“I really liked this game because it tested us,” said Huskies head coach Stephen Tackie. “I saw our guys frustrated, I saw our guys not sure of what to do, but I saw our guys always believe. So when Monday comes, they’re going to believe.”
The Huskies improved to 22-0 on the season and find themselves on the brink of one of the rarest feats in high school basketball, a perfect campaign, capped by a AAAA provincial championship.
Those expecting Sturgeon Heights to run away with this one were in for a shocker, however, as the Trojans gave the Huskies all they could handle for the better part of four quarters.
The two sides went blow for blow in the first three quarters, Vincent Massey leading by four after the first quarter and at halftime 32-31.
De La Mothe turned the tide late in the third quarter with a pair of outstanding individual efforts. The senior guard stripped a Trojans ball-handler at half court then proceeded to lead a fast break, which he finished by cramming a two-handed slam. The play brought the Huskies’ bench and the crowd to its feet.
“That’s an example of how he wanted to win so bad, that I actually think he believed that that dunk was important,” Tackie said. “I don’t know if it was the dunk, but it was the fact that he was playing with passion, and that dunk represented passion.”
The ensuing possession, De La Mothe made a savvy defensive play, stepping in front of pass before drawing a foul while leading another fast break. His two baskets from the foul line gave the Huskies a 49-46 lead entering the final frame.
“I woke up like normal. Took it as a normal day, came out with the same mindset as we do every other game,” De La Mothe said. “I have really good teammates that can find me when I’m open. They know when’s the right play and they have a very high IQ.”
Despite De La Mothe continuing to lace shot after shot, including three from beyond the arc, the Trojans stayed within striking distance thanks to an 11-point second half by Jeremiah Ige. That is until there were four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, senior point guard Samuel Sola drilled a dagger corner three to give the Huskies an 11-point advantage, the first double-digit lead of the game.
“It was tight,” Sola said. “I was kind of nervous at half but in the locker room we talked about it and we knew we were the number one team in the province, so we knew we could win this.”
Tackie has stated in the past his squad isn’t thinking about an undefeated season. With one game separating them from that feat, he said their mindset won’t change.
“On Monday, we would’ve never played on Monday, March 20th, 2023 ever before. So it’s about Monday,” he said.
“One game, one day.”
Meanwhile, St. Paul’s cruised to a consecutive AAAA boy’s provincial basketball championship final on the back of dominant forward Ramogy Nyagudi.
The 6-10 16-year-old wreaked havoc in the paint all night, registering 13 points and five rebounds in the second half alone before subbing out.
The Crusaders led 47-33 at halftime and never looked back, overmatching the Gophers in every facet of the game.
St. Paul’s will look to complete their provincial title defence and secure a back-to-back championship for the first time in school history.
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.