The Vanier Crusaders finished the season with their closest, most contested game of the season. They built leads only to have them slip away as the F.H. Collins Warriors surged on the scoreboard.
It was how championship games should be: tense, dramatic and determined in the final minute.
The Crusaders downed the Warriors 83-80 to win their third straight senior boys title at the Yukon High School Basketball Championships on Saturday at Porter Creek Secondary.
“That was the most competitive game we’ve had all year and it was just great to be a part of,” said Crusaders head coach Cody Hougen.
“I’m just really proud of the guys. Everyone came together. This is my first year coaching, so I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to be coaching and I’m just happy for them right now.”
Not only did the win mark a three-peat at the championships for Vanier, it capped an immaculate season for the team. The Crusaders went undefeated in Yukon, not dropping a game on the way to the Super Hoops title and the territorial championship.
“We’ve gone undefeated the whole year, but both teams are pretty evenly matched,” said Crusaders All-Star Noah Kitchen. “We get the wind, then we lose it – back and forth, back and forth. Both teams are pretty much evenly matched, so that’s what that was all about.”
Three times in the game the Crusaders built a six-or-more point lead only to have it crumble. Vanier began the fourth quarter up 57-56, grew it to 77-65, but began the final minute of regulation with a narrow 81-80 lead. The scoreboard counted down in small intervals as free-throws and timeouts put the game in slow motion.
Players stepped to the free-throw line as teammates watched from the bench, hands over their mouths, hoping and praying.
Crusader Ian New drained one from the line for the game winning point. Teammate and All-Star RJ Siosan got the final one with eight seconds left on the board.
“We just held onto that game,” said Hougen. “F.H. made a great push at the end and we’re just lucky to come out with this one. We came together, timeouts were useful, and we were able to regroup and get it done. It was a great game.
“Both teams made big runs and that’s what it was the whole game,” he added. “We were just able to keep our head above the water and battle through it.”
Crusaders’ Chris Carino was Vanier’s top scorer with 28 points, including two fourth quarter three-pointers. Siosan was close behind with 24 points.
Carino was named championship MVP. He was also the Super Hoops MVP in the Whitehorse high school league.
“He’s so valuable to our team because he’s such a level-headed guy and he’s always in the right mindset on the floor and is able to calm the guys down,” said Hougen. “The guys get a little more rattled and he’s just the solid rock on our team who’s able to make big shots and big plays, and he’s still got another year to go.”
Kitchen was third in scoring for his team with eight points. Saturday’s was the Grade 12’s final high school game.
“This is my last year and it feels good to play with these guys,” said Kitchen. “Some of them I’ve been playing with since the beginning of high school. We went to Western (Canada Summer Games) and all these different tournaments with Yukon basketball. So it feels good to finish the last year, walk out with the gold, and I had a good time playing with these guys.”
“It feels great to be done and to walk out with a gold medal around my neck.”
Bryan Hermosa put the most up on the Warriors’ side of the scoreboard, amassing 27 points. Teammate Ken Valdez sent 19-worth through the hoop.
Vanier’s B team, including All-Star Zack Giczi, defeated the Porter Creek Rams for the senior boys bronze.
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Bryan Hermosa (Warriors)
Ken Valdez (Warriors)
RJ Siosan (Crusaders)
Noah Kitchen (Crusaders)
Zack Giczi (Crusaders)
Chris Carino (Crusaders)