Slim margin decides championship game

Callan Rakimov of Cowichan wins the fight for the ball over Jeff Calton of Stelly’s Friday. - Andrew Leong
Callan Rakimov of Cowichan wins the fight for the ball over Jeff Calton of Stelly’s Friday.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Cowichan Junior T-Birds are not only blowing lesser opponents away, they’re playing clutch basketball against the tough teams.

The host T-Birds captured top spot in their own Thunderbird Classic Saturday with a 56-55 victory over St. Michael’s University School. The game tested the character of the team after it trounced Handsworth 54-39 in the semifinal and destroyed Stelly’s 98-13 earlier.

“I think we’re definitely moving in the direction of being an elite team,’’ said co-coach Graham Scargall.

“The Handsworth team coach said, ‘We played just as well as we could play and couldn’t keep up.’’

“I think the biggest thing is we’re still improving,’’ said co-coach Lucky Walia. “The pieces are working together.’’

It’s not always easy to get players on the same page. But the T-Birds’ mix of scoring, rebounding and defensive talent is a formidable combination.

“They’re starting to buy in with the ball movement,’’ said Scargall.

The great thing for Scargall about the end result is Cowichan went 1-4 against St. Michael’s with essentially the same core group of players on both sides in Grades 8 and 9.

The final, Scargall added, was “maybe closer than it needed to be in the last two minutes, but we’ll work on ironing out those details.’’

Cowichan led by 14 points at the half before St. Michael’s came charging back.

“We definitely managed to survive the onslaught, even though it was a bit exciting at times,’’ said Scargall.

Handsworth won the third-place game over Walnut Grove 47-24. Oak Bay beat Claremont 61-38 for fifth and Valleyview escaped the cellar in the eight-team event and took seventh spot with a 49-26 triumph against Stelly’s.

Josh Charles of Cowichan was named the tournament’s most valuable player while teammates Tyler Hudson and Travis McDonald were selected as all-stars.

The rest of the all-star team included Graeme Hyde-Lay and Max Pollen of St. Michael’s, Mihai Lapuste of Handsworth and Andrew McKay from Walnut Grove.

Cowichan plays a league game at Chemainus Thursday and an exhibition against Mount Douglas Saturday before hosting the Mid-Island tournament Feb. 15 and 16.

“They’re the nicest group of guys you could ask for,’’ said Scargall of the T-Birds.

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