Hunting Hills Lightning head coach Scott Doan decided to open the best-of-three Central Alberta zone 4A high school boys’ basketball playoffs on the road with the idea of being able to win the title on home court.
Mission accomplished, but it was anything but easy.
Despite missing three players, including their leading scorer, Spencer Klassen, the Lindsay Thurber Raiders gave the Lightning everything they had before dropping a 73-64 decision at Hunting Hills Thursday.
Meanwhile on the girls side, the Raiders swept the best-of-three series with a 50-32 win over the Lightning.
The Lightning looked as if they would run away with the boys game, taking a 12-3 lead after the first quarter. After leading 34-21 at the half they took a 22 point lead in the third quarter before the Raiders fought their way back, narrowing the gap to six points in the fourth quarter. Once again the Lightning took a 12 points lead with a little under a minute remaining. But the Raiders press forced several turnovers and they got to within four points before the Lightning earned some breathing room at the free throw line.
“It was a lot tougher than it should have been,” said Doan. “But we told the guys before the game that when a team losses their best player all of a sudden everyone else kicks in with a little extra and good for them. Credit to them.”
Raiders head coach Dwayne Lalor wasn’t using the loss of Klassen as an excuse.
“We played much better game than we did Tuesday . . . the effort was there,” he said. “We didn’t score enough in that first quarter, but the kids played all the way through and put on a heck of an effort. It was all we could have asked from them.
“Everybody played the game, that’s why we’re a team,” continued Lalor. “When we got it to four points late we were excited, but we needed one more turnover.”
The Lightning also deserved credit for not folding when the Raiders got within striking distance.
“We’ve battled all season,” said Doan, who liked the fact his team had to fight to advance to the provincials.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game, but we’ll take what we get,” he said. “I thought we were a little tight early and that could be because we were the favourites. It’s tougher to be the favourites than the underdogs as times. But the kids delivered and good for them.”
Kevin Stevens had 19 points, Joel Peterson 14 and Sean Campbell 11 for the Lightning. Lorne Baile had 14, Erik Hoehne 12 and Dallin Higham 10 for LTCHS.
Raiders 50 Lightning 32
LTCHS head coach Kathy Lalor knew the Lightning would be a different team than the one that lost the opening game of the series 65-34 Tuesday. And for 20 minutes they were.
The Raiders led 20-17 at the half before taking control in the third quarter and extending their lead to 38-24.
“We knew coming in it was going to be battle,” she said. “Hunting Hills played good defence and did what they do well and that’s rebound. We had a little talk at the half about boxing out. Give their girls credit they worked hard, but I think we were ready for it.”
Lalor agreed the team’s pressure defence and fast break offence turned the game in their favour in the third quarter.
“We’ve been working hard on that all year. Last year at this time we probably wouldn’t be making all those fast-break points, but the girls have matured and their skill level has improved and the combination of those two things helped us. The girls went hard to the hoop and then got back on defence.”
Lightning head coach Jill de Jonge agreed.
“The beginning of the third quarter was the difference,” she said. “They capitalized on their fast break opportunities and we couldn’t capitalize when we got turnovers. But credit to them, they played hard all season.”
Amy Whitesell led the Raiders with 11 points while Erin Seater had nine and Emma Newton seven. Abbey Busch had 12 and Wendy Cortes nine for the Lightning.
The 4A provincials are March 14-16 in Calgary.