After the opening game of the Central zone 4A senior high boys basketball semifinal was decided by a single point, Thursday’s Game 2 was supposed to be a toss-up.
Someone forgot to tell the host Notre Dame Cougars, who outscored the Hunting Hills Lightning 28-12 in the second quarter en route to a 77-61 victory and a sweep of the best-of-three series.
Earlier, the Lindsay Thurber Raiders ripped Notre Dame 108-35 to complete a senior girls semifinal sweep. Both zone finals will be played at Thurber on Thursday, with the Cougars meeting the Raiders in the boys contest and the girls game featuring the hosts and Hunting Hills.
All four teams will compete in the 4A provincials March 17-19 at the three Red Deer schools.
“It’s always a long season but this has been a fun group of guys to work with and I think there’s still more in the tank,” said Notre Dame boys coach Stephen Meredew. “We have one more game in our zone to prove it.”
The Cougars, who prevailed 61-60 in Tuesday’s series opener, held a slim 22-21 lead after one quarter Thursday but were up 50-33 at the half thanks partly to their inside dominance.
“One of the hardest pieces of work to do in basketball is rebounding,” said Meredew. “It’s not really a glory-filled job but when our guys put their minds to it they’re darn good at it.
“In the first half we did a great job of keeping them off the boards. If it’s one-and-done, it’s easy defence after that.”
Cody White led the Cougars with a 31-point performance, while Josh Ballantyne netted 15 points and Jeb Maribojoc scored 12. The Lightning, who trailed 61-44 after three quarters, got 27 points from Rohit Razzaq and 13 from Steel MacDonald.
Hunting Hills closed to within 10 points with four minutes remaining in the final quarter, but the Cougars scored the next six points to all but seal the deal.
“You never like to extend a series and we already did a good job of almost seemingly handing them a chance to do just that on Tuesday,” said Meredew. “We had a big lead and we let our focus slip a little. Hunting Hills played great, they’re always a hard-working team and they’re going to come hard all of the time.
“Kevin (DeJonge) is a great coach and they have some guys with never-say-die attitudes, some multi-sport athletes, and they proved that on Tuesday. We had a huge lead on them and they didn’t pack it in. They kept coming and I knew they were going to do the same tonight.”
The Cougars were ready.
“Our guys had to focus for 40 minutes and they finally did that,” said Meredew. “That’s what we’ll have to do the next two weeks. If we have any two-minute vacations out there on the court it’s going to get ugly in a hurry. We have to be focused for 40 minutes and I think our guys did that tonight. It was one of our better games.”
• Kelsey Lalor poured in 31 points to lead the Raiders to their one-sided senior girls victory.
Hayley Lalor had 16 points for the winners, Kailie Loewen scored 14 and Elizabeth Morneault, Kiera Fujimoto and Nikki Thomas each hit for 10.
“Notre Dame played much harder against us tonight,” said Raiders coach Kathy Lalor, whose squad prevailed 79-16 in Tuesday’s first game. “They’re battling some injuries and some sicknesses and they came out and played hard.”
The Cougars got six points from each of Hayley Hollings, Heather Daniel and Lexi Kowalchuk.
“This was probably one of the best games our girls have played in a long time as a team,” said Lalor. “We tried to set up and run our half-court offence and I thought we did a pretty good job of it, especially in the second half when we didn’t press as much.
“That’s something we’ve been working really hard on the last month.”
• The Lindsay Thurber boys and Hunting Hills girls advanced to the zone finals — and earned berths in the 4A provincials — with respective 91-55 and 71-27 wins at Lacombe.
Kelsey Kolesnik led the Lightning with 14 points. Kristen Loney added 11 and Jessie Handley scored 10.