It would have been easy for the La Loche Lakers to see their seeding position in the Saskatchewan High Schools Athletic Association 4A boys basketball playoffs, realize who they’d have to play in the first round, and decide the trip just wasn’t worth making.
Eight-and-a-half hours on the highway as the 16th seed, and you’re in Moose Jaw taking on the top-seeded Central Cyclones, two-time Hoopla runners up and the de facto favourites to win the provincial title this season?
Teams have faced such odds in the past and said ‘no thanks’. For La Loche, though, it was a chance to have some fun, visit places their players had only heard of and, yes, play a little basketball in the process.
So there the Lakers were on Friday night, working the ball up court and trying to deal with Central’s press and lethal defensive game despite having seen nothing like it all season. And while things were close in the early going – courtesy some outstanding ball control and shooting by senior guard Tylie Montgrand – in the end the reigning Moose Jaw high school city champions were just too much.
The final score? 127-33, including only two points for the Lakers in the third quarter. But for coach Mackenzie Graham, the whole situation was nothing but a win.
“It was a good experience for us, it was good for the boys to see a different level of basketball and it was a good challenge,” Graham said. “So we’re going to learn from it and move on… it’s good for the boys to get out see something new. They had a good time even with the score what it was and that’s the most important thing.”
The Lakers plan to make the most of their trip, having already spent some time checking out the sights in Saskatoon and planning to take in some of what Moose Jaw has to offer on Saturday, including a trip to visit the Tunnels of Moose Jaw, if time permits.
They’ll even have a chance to stop in at Booster Juice for free smoothies after owner Jody Oakes hit them up with gift certificates after the game.
“This is our first time this year playing this far down south, normally we play in our area, teams from Prince Albert and some teams from smaller towns around there, so we’re going to take advantage of the trip a little bit,” Graham said. “We want the guys to have some fun and new experiences and this is a great chance to do that.”
Montgrand finished with 16 points to lead the Lakers.
Quinton Ross scored 25 to lead Central, while Jaxson Brownell scored 20 to go along with 18 from Dylan Boughen and 16 from Kyle Boughen.
The other regional semifinal at Central saw nine-seed Saskatoon Bedford Road take an 86-49 win over eight-seed Yorkton Sacred Heart. The Cyclones face Bedford Road for the right to advance to Hoopla at 12 p.m. Saturday.
In out-of-town 4A boys regional action, the thresher that is the Moose Jaw high school basketball league has once again paid benefits for local squads aiming for spots in Hoopla, as both the Peacock Toilers and Vanier Vikings also won their opening round matches.
A year removed from three of the four boys 4A teams being from Moose Jaw, the sixth-seed Vikings took an 81-65 win over Humboldt while the seven-seed Toilers downed Regina Johnson 72-42.
Vanier next takes on the third-seed and two-time defending Hoopla champions from Weyburn in their regional final, while Peacock will take on second-seed Notre Dame.
At the 3A boys regional tournament in Regina, the nine-seed Caronport Cougars dropped a 99-76 decision to eight-seed Melville.
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In the 4A girls regional taking place at Peacock, the third-seed Toilers opened with a 69-25 win over Regina Martin. Their opponent in the regional final will be a familiar one after the six-seed Central Cyclones took a 74-37 win over Balgonie Greenall. Game time is 12 p.m. at Peacock.
The 10-seed Vanier Vikings didn’t have as much luck in their opening game in Melfort after falling 67-52 to Regina Sheldon.
The 3A girls top-seed Caronport Cougars lived up to their pre-tournament status as favourites as they rolled past Esterhazy 79-33. They’ll take on eight-seed Yorkton Sacred Heart in the regional final.
The five-seed Assiniboia Rockets also won their opening 3A girls match, defeating Rosetown 66-19. They’ll take on four-seed Melville for the right to advance to Hoopla next weekend in Saskatoon.