ELIE — The Arborg Athletics varsity boys’ basketball team returned home with a Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association banner for the first time since 1981 — just not the one they wanted.
The top-seeded Pinawa Panthers used a 17-2 run in the second quarter to build up a 22-point lead at halftime and the Athletics were unable to mount a comeback, dropping the A provincial championship game 90-65 in Elie on March 16.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” Grade 12 student Connor Yarema told The Interlake Spectator. “It would have definitely been nice to get the championship banner but we still brought one home for Arborg, and second in the province is still better than last.”
The six-foot-three centre finished with 16 points, while Grade 11 power forward Austin Adair recorded a team-high 18 points in a quest to join the Arborg boys’ curling team 31 years ago as the last team in school history to win a provincial championship.
Guard Liwel Delos Trinos, one of three other Arborg Grade 12 students, along with small forward Nolan Paulson and sixth man Josh Hiebert, expressed a sentiment similar to Yarema.
“Since Grade 9, we really wanted a banner provincial banner,” Delos Trinos said. “We came really high, coming this far. It’s a finalist one, it’s our last year and that’s OK. We played really hard.”
The second-seeded Athletics, which entered provincials with a 21-3 record and Zone 5 champions, knocked off the host St. Paul’s Barons 103-64 in quarter-final action on March 14 and followed that up with an 81-75 triumph over the Treherne Tigers in semifinal action on March 15.
However, the final didn’t start out great for Arborg as it turned the ball over several times in the first quarter and had difficult dealing with Pinawa’s dribble-drive penetration and kickouts to the perimeter.
The Athletics — notorious for their slow starts to games this season — trailed 23-14 after the first 10 minutes. But just when it looked like they were gaining momentum and had cut their deficit to six points, the Panthers found themselves up 42-21 following a 17-2 run.
“Our defence didn’t come to play in the first half. We were letting them walk in pretty easily on us,” Athletics head coach Ian Tarnowski said. “Pinawa is known to be a three-point shooting team, so we were guarding against that and they decided to take it in on our interior and that’s how they beat us.
“We played a two-one-to defence and they kept moving the ball so fast and guys were scrambling a bit there,” he continued. “We adjusted for the second half and it was basically a baskt for basket game after that.”
It didn’t help that the Athletics only made one of 10 free throws in the first half, eventually finished 7-for-27 (25.9%) from the charity stripe.
Arborg closed the gap to 58-43 with 3:31 remaining in the third quarter, but Pinawa, led by Adam Kerr’s 13 fourth-quarter points, pulled away late as the Panthers successfully defended the A provincial title they captured last year in Treherne.
“Shots were not falling early,” Delos Trinos said. “They came out really hard and I guess we were just not ready for them. We played really good in the second half, just not good enough, I guess.”
Kerr, who finished with 24 points, and Graham Rasmussen, who tallied 27 points, including four first-half triples, were named tournament all-stars. Noah Parr (20 points) was named the MVP.
Despite falling in the championship game, Tarnowski is proud of the effort his team brought and the silver they brought home.
“I couldnt be more proud of these guys/ We make a goal in November of making it here and we made it here,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not the result that we wanted but we worked hard. I’ve got four seniors that are graduating this year and they gave it all they had for two years and I couldn’t ask any more of them.”
Yarema, who was named a tournament all-star, fouled out of his last game in an Athletics jersey with a little more than five minutes to play. Nonetheless, he will look back fondly on his time playing hoops at Arborg Collegiate.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “Four years ago, we started losing 72-8 to Gimli, and now we came to being second in the province, so I think it’s huge. It’s been awesome.”
Lakers winless in Winnipeg
The Gimli Lakers varsity boys’ basketball team came up on the short end of two games at AA provincials at Immanuel Christian School in Winnipeg.
Gimli, which was seeded fourth, suffered a 64-48 loss to the Steinbach Christian Flames in the quarter-finals on March 14 and dropped an 80-68 decision to the host Falcons in consolation semifinal action on March 15.