Cougars 68 Lightning 56
For close to 20 minutes the Notre Dame Cougars were nearly letter perfect as they looked to close out the Central Alberta high school 4A basketball playoffs against the Hunting Hills Lightning.
Not only were they moving the ball, which allowed them to be creative on offence, but their defence didn’t give the Lightning any room.
The Cougars used a 35-14 opening half lead to go on to a 68-56 victory to sweep the best-of-three series on home court Thursday.
“It’s always tough to close out a team, but our defence was especially good in the second quarter and it allowed us to capitalize on the offensive end,” said Cougars head coach Stef Labrecque.
Both teams looked tight in the first quarter and they were tied 4-4 for the longest time.
The Cougars finally found their rhythm and led 14-4 after 10 minutes.
“When the nerves went away you could see we started to play our game,” said Labrecque.
While the Cougars had to be happy with their defence the Lightning struggled to get into any offensive flow until the second half.
“Their defence was good, but we didn’t do the things we needed to either,” said Lightning head coach Scott Doan. “We weren’t aggressive and weren’t reacting to what they were doing. We did wake up in the second half and to their credit the guys made a run.”
The Cougars led 54-35 after three quarters, only to see the Lightning narrow the gap to 58-47. However, Mike Malin and Dustin Schaber nailed back-to-back threes to all but salt the victory away.
The Cougars did have to play the final 11:17 without star guard Dario Viveros, who took a hard fall and banged his head.
“That could have been a game-changer,” said Labrecque, who felt Viveros was submarined. “But Scott’s team didn’t give up either. They made a push, but when we hit those two threes that was huge.”
Labrecque went to his bench over the final five minutes.
‘It was good to get some of the other kids in there,” he said. “And Diego (Manjivar) and Dustin (Schaber) both came off the bench and gave us some valuable minutes throughout the game.”
Manjivar finished with 10 points while Viveros had 13 and Malin and Jordan Handel 11 each. Joel Peterson had 25 points and Dallas Hancox and Orrin Farries 12 each for the Lightning.
Jesse Clark had eight points for the Cougars, but received accolades from Labrecque for his defensive job on Josh Loney, who had only five points.
“An outstanding job on him, in both games,” he said.
Lightning 53 Cougars 47
On the girls’ side the Lightning overcame a deficit to down the Cougars 53-47 to sweep their best-of-three series.
The Lightning trailed until midway through the third quarter, when the Cougars offence dried up and the Lightning caught fire, especially under the basket.
“We did a great job of moving the ball and our post players made some great decisions when they got the ball underneath,” said Lightning head coach Jill de Jonge, who appeared to have more depth than the Cougars.
“I thought we did and our bench players did a good job of coming in and providing us with some scoring, plus this is the most athletic team I’ve had in my six years here.”
The Lightning led by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter, but thanks to outstanding guard, Molly Li, the Cougars kept it close.
Li hit 12 of her game-high 24 points in the final quarter.
“She kept it close, for sure,” said de Jonge. “But give them credit. They work hard and are well coached.”
Jada Wright led the Lightning with 13 points while Jayna Mazurin added 12 and Hanna Delemont eight. Megan Schmidt added 12 for Notre Dame.
“We battled, but they had a bit more in the fourth quarter,” said Cougars coach John Groenen, who was handling the team for Erika Pottage, who just had her second child.
“It was a tough one, but we didn’t box out as much as we needed to, which gave them some extra shots. But congratulations to them. They were well deserving of the win.”
Both winners advance to the provincials, March 15-17 in the Raymond-Cardston area.