Faced with the prospect of hosting the Senior Boys AAA North Island basketball championships as spectators, the Alberni District Secondary School Armada punched their ticket into the six-team playoffs with a 62-54 home win over the scrappy Ballenas Whalers on Tuesday evening, Feb. 13.
Jayden Moss scored 26 points — 23 in a decisive first half — and teammate Skyler Quesnel-Campbell added 18 points and 14 rebounds as the Armada earned a first-round date with Wellington Secondary of Nanaimo on opening night of the Feb. 15-17 North Island Championships at ADSS.
Ballenas, which had only one returning player from last year’s senior team, struggled through a rebuilding season before saving its best for last. Miyabi Yamasaki scored 15 points and Aidan Brot keyed a third-quarter rally with eight of his 10 points as the seventh-seeded Whalers pushed sixth-seeded ADSS to the brink in the loser-out challenge game.
“It’s the best game they played so far this year, and I’m just glad they saved their best for last,” Ballenas coach Kevin McMillan said. “The fact that they made Alberni really earn it today, I’m happy with.”
Alberni head coach Craig Brooks admitted his squad faced some pressure Tuesday night with the possibility of being eliminated from the tournament the school will host this week. The Armada will face Wellington at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, in the opening round of the North Island tourney. The top four finishers will advance to the Feb. 22-24 AAA Vancouver Island Championships at Carihi Secondary in Campbell River.
“The pressure (Tuesday) was about making it or not making it” into the North Island bracket, said Brooks. “And the nerves showed up, I think, in the early part of the game. As the game tightened up a bit, most of our timeouts were about settling down, rather than making any X’s and O’s adjustments.”
Ballenas, with a roster filled with players who came into the season having never played high school basketball before, actually jumped in front early, taking a 15-11 first-quarter lead behind four points each from Jimmy Schworan and Yamasaki, along with Jairus Abad’s three-point field goal. But Moss erupted for eight consecutive points — including a pair of threes — in the final 50 seconds of the period as the Armada eased ahead 21-17. The hosts maintained the momentum into the second, opening the period with a 14-2 run and building their largest lead at 38-21 with 1:03 remaining until intermission.
“In the second quarter the nerves left and they started trusting the system we’ve been running the whole time,” Brooks said. “We ran our half-court offence the way we’ve been doing it, and everything was clicking.”
But Ballenas, which suffered losses of 25 and 30 points to ADSS in regular-season league play, was not ready to go home. The Whalers unleashed a withering three-quarter-court zone press that forced a series of turnovers and Brot found his shooting stroke from outside as BSS closed to 50-40 entering the final period.
“This was a do-or-die game, so we put all our effort on the court,” said Brot, the lone returnee from last year’s senior team. “Everyone was trying their hardest, staying focused. A lot more playing as a team, for sure.”
Ballenas rallied to within six points at 60-54 with 44 seconds to play, but was unable to score again. Moss, who had been limited to a single free throw in the second half, closed out the scoring with a pair of free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Bryce Phillips added four points and a team-high eight rebounds for Ballenas. Schworan finished with six points and seven rebounds. Alberni co-captain Rune Sinclair had 11 rebounds to go with six points as the Armada won the battle of the boards, 56-37.
“To come into (Alberni’s) house when it mattered, and make it a two- or three-possession game in the fourth quarter, I’m feeling OK,” McMillan said. “I’m happy with the effort those guys showed today; they executed as best they can, and showed they can actually play basketball at this level.”