Hunting Hills Lightning Rachel O’Connell battles with Lacombe Rams Jenica Swartz on Thursday in the Central Alberta Schools Athletic Association girls basketball 4A semifinal. Hunting Hills won and advanced to the final against the Lindsay Thurber Raiders. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Lightning, Raiders advance to girls 4A high school basketball final

Notre Dame Cougars and Lindsay Thurber to play in 4A boys final

The Hunting Hills Lightning were working like a well-oiled machine as the high school basketball playoffs tipped off.

Hunting Hills rolled to an 85-42 win over the Lacombe Rams in the Central Alberta Schools Athletic Association 4A girls basketball semifinal Thursday in their home gym.

The win came thanks to a strong performance from two Lightning stars, Marissa Richards and Taylor Blais, who both were absolutely dominant for stretches.

In addition to those two players keeping the ship steady, Hunting Hills got a strong night from the supporting cast, with Shianna Duda putting up 12 points and Tailya Stepan adding nine. Blais went off for 27, most of which came in the first half, while Richards had 17, most of those coming in the second half.

On defence, the Lightning limited Peighton Melton to eight points, after she had a big game against them late in the season.

“I thought we executed our gameplan. (Melton), she hurt us last time we played, I think she scored like 22 points. Our gameplan was to key in on her and see what would happen,” said Lightning coach Jill DeJonge.

“We rebounded relatively well and our scoring was pretty spread out, which was nice because they were running a box and one and a triangle and two… everybody else stepped up.”

In the other girls, semifinal, the third-seed Lindsay Thurber Raiders went into Notre Dame and knocked off the second-place Cougars 61-57. Shantal Stone had a huge game for the Raiders with 20 points, while Hannah Wirtanen contributed 14.

The two teams will start the CASAA 4A final on Tuesday at Hunting Hills at 6 p.m.

On the boys side, the top-ranked Lindsay Thurber Raiders also picked up a victory. They downed the fourth-place Lacombe Rams 82-61. Brett Lower led the way for the Raiders with 16 points.

The Raiders rode a strong start to the second half, a 12-0 run to the victory.

“That was a huge team effort for us. Our starting point guard got hurt at the end of the second quarter so we had to rely on team basketball. It came from defence and it flowed into our offence and we had a great start to the third quarter,” said Raiders coach Joel Carroll.

In the other boys semifinal, the Notre Dame Cougars won a 66-60 thriller over the Notre Dame Cougars to book their spot in the final.

Notre Dame was nearly run out of the gym earlier this season by the Lightning but showed plenty of grit and determination in the win Thursday.

“Tonight, we brought our game and we competed and to me, that’s the biggest thing. We competed hard all game long,” said Cougars coach Dale Henderson.

“At the start of the year, based on scores, we thought all four Central Alberta teams are all very, very close. It;s going to be close. We lost to Thurber by two… all the games are close. I’m excited and the boys played hard, I was so proud, the work ethic was there.”

Hunting Hills led 32-25 at halftime but the Cougars found their mojo in the third quarter and tied the game at 48 heading into the fourth.

The biggest run of the night, a 9-0 run with three straight three-pointers turned the tide for Notre Dame.

“We got hot, we made three threes in three trips. Different guys. The fact we made them, bang, bang, bang. It got us into the game and it might have deflated them a little bit,” Henderson said.

Pierce Shybunka led the Lightning with a game-high 30 points. Jess Money was the offensively catalyst for Notre Dame with 17 points, while Mason Empey hit 15 points.

They will tip-off in the Finals Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Lindsay Thurber.

In the 3A girls semifinals, the H.J. Cody Lakers knocked off the Camrose Trojans 70-68 to advance to the final. Wetaskiwin beat the St. Joseph Falcons 74-38 to move on.

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Hunting Hills Lightning player Paige Rolinsky goes up for a layup against the Lacombe Rams on Thursday in the Central Alberta Schools Athletic Association girls basketball 4A semifinal. Hunting Hills won and advanced to the final against the Lindsay Thurber Raiders. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Hunting Hills Lightning player Alex Litster goes up for a layup against the Notre Dame Cougars Thursday in the Central Alberta Schools Athletic Association boys basketball 4A semifinal. Hunting Hills won and advanced to the final against the Lindsay Thurber Raiders. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Hunting Hills Lightning player Mark Samson drives through the lane against the Notre Dame Cougars Thursday in the Central Alberta Schools Athletic Association boys basketball 4A semifinal. Hunting Hills won and advanced to the final against the Lindsay Thurber Raiders. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

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