Wellington ends T-Birds’ hopes
Unpredictability brought about by parity is one of the great things about high school basketball on the island.
Cowichan Thunderbirds looked to be in great shape after beating Oak Bay for the first time in three tries this season during the opening game of the island AAA tournament at Mount Douglas Thursday.
In the end, that victory didn’t lead Cowichan anywhere and Oak Bay made a miraculous trek through the loser’s bracket with four straight wins — including an 81-75 victory against Claremont in a challenge game Monday night — to earn one of the two places in the provincial tournament alongside island champion Dover Bay.
“You just don’t know what’s going to happen,’’ conceded Cowichan coach Sandeep Heer.
Cowichan beat Oak Bay 67-60 but lost a key game to Wellington 86-75 en route to a shot at a challenge position. But Oak Bay manhandled Wellington 66-37 and eventually made the challenge game and upset Claremont.
Heer tried to make some sense of it, particularly as it pertained to his team’s difficulty with Wellington.
“They have some size, wider guys who gave us problems,’’ he said.
“Some of the match-ups in the post weren’t the best,’’ said T-Birds’ player Rowan Schmidt. “I felt it was winable each time we played them.’’
Mitch Knippelberg, later named a second team island all-star, led the way against Oak Bay with 26 points. Willy Jeklin added 15 and Nick Bynkoski had 13.
“We felt pretty good after the game,’’ said Heer. “The guys played extremely hard.’’
“With the Oak Bay game, we shocked most people,’’ said Schmidt.
But the T-Birds ran into the usual north island champion Dover Bay roadblock and lost 65-47 despite 13 points from Bynkoski. No one else hit double figures.
“We played hard, we were in there for the first half,’’ said Heer. “The third quarter, it kind of slipped away.’’
Saturday morning’s clash with Wellington was a high-scoring affair, as the Cowichan defence encountered problems.
“We didn’t have the mental focus on the defensive end,’’ said Heer. “They did all they could. It was one of those games we were just late getting there.’’
Cowichan’s scoring was led by 21 points from Knippelberg and 20 for Bynkoski.
The fifth-place finish on the island brought a jolt of confidence for next season, with Knippelberg leading a strong returning core. “It bodes well,’’ said Heer. “They got a lot of experience.’’
“We did better than what everyone expected us to do at the beginning of the season,’’ said Schmidt, one of the team’s few graduating players. “Overall near the end we started to function more as a team.’’