April 19, 2019

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Provincial basketball title up for grabs between top two seeds

Mason Kraus and the Sturgeon Heights Huskies played the role of giant-killers for about 20 minutes Friday night.

The scrappy Huskies, employing a withering pressure defence and inspired by the sensational play of their backcourt ace, shocked just about everyone by surging into a 46-41 halftime lead over No. 1-ranked Vincent Massey Trojans.

It was a pace fourth-seeded Sturgeon Heights couldn’t sustain.

With Kraus’s calves starting to cramp up and Massey guard Jackson Tachinski turning up the defensive pressure, the Trojans started the third quarter on a 15-4 run and never looked back en route to a 103-79 triumph in varsity boys semifinal action at the Manitoba AAAA high school championships.

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Mason Kraus and the Sturgeon Heights Huskies played the role of giant-killers for about 20 minutes Friday night.

The scrappy Huskies, employing a withering pressure defence and inspired by the sensational play of their backcourt ace, shocked just about everyone by surging into a 46-41 halftime lead over No. 1-ranked Vincent Massey Trojans.

It was a pace fourth-seeded Sturgeon Heights couldn’t sustain.

With Kraus’s calves starting to cramp up and Massey guard Jackson Tachinski turning up the defensive pressure, the Trojans started the third quarter on a 15-4 run and never looked back en route to a 103-79 triumph in varsity boys semifinal action at the Manitoba AAAA high school championships.

Massey will face the No. 2-ranked St. Paul’s Crusaders in Monday’s provincial final. The defending champs drilled the third-seeded Dakota Lancers 88-64 in Friday’s late semifinal at Investors Group Athletic Centre.

Kraus had 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the opening 20 minutes and Tachinski knew that had to change if the Trojans were to make a return trip to the final. Massey also needed to clean up on offence after committing a whopping 17 turnovers in the opening half.

"I told myself, you know, I’ve gotta play better defence," said Tachinski, who helped limit Kraus to eight points while scoring 19 of his 29 points in the second half. "I let him score 22 points in the first half. My coaches really helped me. They gave us a game plan and my teammates stepped up and helped me on defence. We just picked it up."

Some of that defensive help came from 6-9 forward Kyler Filewich, who had a game-high 35 points, 22 rebounds and four steals. Tachinski had 13 rebounds, nine of which came in that pivotal final half.

Saddled with three fouls, Tachinski finished the first half on the bench and it turned out to be the mental break he needed to refocus.

"It doesn’t come as a big surprise to me, to be honest," Massey head coach Nick Lother said after watching his offence limit turnovers to four in the second half.

"That’s just the kind of kid he is. He’s a very talented basketball player but one of his biggest strengths is his grit... He’s just a better-conditioned athlete than the average athlete. It kinda showed in the second half."

Kraus, still in Grade 11 along with Sturgeon’s four other starters, was a major headache for the Trojans. 

"He’s an excellent scorer and it’s a really tough matchup, but you’ve just gotta stay square and keep him in front," said Tachinski, who was also the starting quarterback on Massey’s city championship football squad last fall. "He’s going to make tough shots because he’s a very skilled player."

Said Kraus: "They did a good job doubling me and making it tough for me to get open shots. They played better defence."

The Trojans, who improved to 29-1, have a deep bench and it showed. 

"I think (Sturgeon’s) style of play isn’t inviting to a 40-minute basketball game," Lother said. "I mean, it would be pretty tough to sustain that with that kind of energy, playing full court like that for 40 minutes, (but) big time credit to Sturgeon Heights. They were really good tonight."

Huskies head coach Stephen Tackie, whose team fell to 27-9 overall, knew his team’s style of play carried risk.

"We probably had eight healthy bodies — a ninth had a sprained ankle," Tackie said. "What turned it? We wondered whether it would be the big court, playing that way but we know that for us to be successful against this team, that’s how we had to play. So, you had to put your chips in. I don’t think that’s what it is. I don’t think we executed on offence in the third quarter, we got into an offensive drought and our defence wasn’t able to create those turnovers that allowed us to get those easy shots."

Tackie decided to sit Kraus for a two-minute stretch midway though the fourth quarter.

"I took him out because I knew he needed about 30, 40 seconds just to mentally get to the right place," Tackie said. "When we went down about 15, the way we went down, it was because it was the stuff we can’t control — their size. They didn’t hit many shots from behind the arc but they just got offensive rebounds. It weighs on you. We did such a good job of limiting that in the first half."

Kraus lamented an opportunity squandered.

"I felt like we could have beat them the whole game," Kraus said. "It gave our whole team confidence (to be leading) at halftime but it just slipped away when they picked up the pace."

TREVOR HAGAN/ WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>St.Pauls Crusaders Luke Cardinal drives to the net against Dakota Lancers Blake Garing during their semi-final high school basketball game at the University of Manitoba, Friday.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN/ WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

St.Pauls Crusaders Luke Cardinal drives to the net against Dakota Lancers Blake Garing during their semi-final high school basketball game at the University of Manitoba, Friday.

Crusaders 88 Lancers 64

The Lancers had a three-point cushion after the first quarter but that evaporated suddenly as St. Paul’s took control and a 40-35 lead to the intermission.

"First half was good," Dakota head coach Dean Favoni said. "I thought the score was in the range that we were comfortable with, pace of play was where we wanted it and in the second half, they really started to clamp down and really made us work to get any kind of baskets. They transitioned really well and it go away from us in the third (quarter)."

TREVOR HAGAN/ WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Dakota Lancers' Christian Aye trips over St.Pauls Crusaders' Zachary Wynne during their semi final high school basketball game at the University of Manitoba, Friday.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN/ WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dakota Lancers' Christian Aye trips over St.Pauls Crusaders' Zachary Wynne during their semi final high school basketball game at the University of Manitoba, Friday.

A superior contribution from the bench and St. Paul’s bigger, stronger lineup was telling.

"It was really warm in here (in the gym) as well and I think our bench really helped us. Zach Wynne had a great game off the bench, Mawa Ottogo was good off the bench and I think that was the difference," Crusaders head coach Jeff Laping said. "We just wore them down a little bit and it’s a lot harder to move when you get tired."

Wynne, a reserve guard, finished with 16 points, three rebounds, two steals and two assists in just over 23 minutes of playing time. Starter Dontae Alexander had six points and 15 rebounds while Luke Cardinal led all scorers with 23 points. Dakota was led by Marcus Foreman with 15 points while teammate Christian Aye had 12 points and 21 rebounds.

St. Paul’s improved to 29-3 overall while Dakota dropped to 20-7.

Monday’s much-anticipated Massey-St. Paul’s showdown is next.

"The way the season went it would’ve been a shame if someone had knocked one of the two of us off," Laping said. "So, now we get the matchup we’ve all been waiting for."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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History

Updated on Friday, March 15, 2019 at 11:54 PM CDT: Fixes spelling of name.

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