Gators going for gold

The Walnut Grove Gators celebrated after their 61-60 semifinal victory over the Vancouver College Fighting Irish at the B.C. AAA senior boys basketball championships. - Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
The Walnut Grove Gators celebrated after their 61-60 semifinal victory over the Vancouver College Fighting Irish at the B.C. AAA senior boys basketball championships.
— image credit: Gary Ahuja/Langley Times

One game is all that stands in the way of the Walnut Grove Gators and the first B.C. AAA senior boys provincial championship in Langley history.

The Gators advanced to the title game thanks to a thrilling, heart-stopping 61-60 victory over the Vancouver College Fighting Irish on Friday night at the Langley Events Centre.

Walnut Grove plays in the championship game on Saturday (March 17) at 8 p.m. against the winner of the second semifinal, White Rock Christian and Terry Fox.

After the Irish erased an eight-point lead with a 15-7 run to tie the score at 58 with 3:38 remaining, both teams failed to score for nearly the next two minutes.

But with 1:47 remaining, Walnut Grove's Ethan McKean hit a three-pointer to put the Gators up for good.

It was his fourth three-pointer and he led the Gators in scoring for the second straight game, this time with 18 points. He also had nine rebounds, five assists and four steals to earn player of the game honours.

"This is probably the most special shot I have ever taken in my life," he said afterwards.

"I can't describe it, it feels amazing."

McKean said he had no reservations about passing off the ball once he saw he had an open look at hte basket.

"You have to be confident, you have to know you can shoot it," he said.

Vancouver College's Cole Penman made a pair of free throws with 1:33 to go, but those would be the game's final points. The Irish's Isaiah Solomon had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but his shot rolled off the rim sending the Gators into jubilation.

"I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous," said Gators coach George Bergen, who won a championship as a player in 1970 with MEI.

"It was a tense, tense 10 seconds, but our guys kept their poise."

Penman led the Irish with 25 points. Solomon finished with 18 points and a dozen rebounds.

Jadon Cohee scored 14 points for Walnut Grove, as well as pulling down six rebounds and dishing out five assists.

Paul Getz had 10 points and five rebounds, while De'Sean Monsanto had seven points and nine rebounds.

The depth is not surprising to the Gators.

"It has been like that all year, we have at least five guys that can score in double figures every game," McKean said.

"If we have one guy who is having an off night, we have four others who can pick it up."

In the Gators' first game, McKean had a tough shooting night, missing all five attempts.

"He has been great all tournament except for that first game," Bergen said.

"But he just believes in himself."

Another trademark of Walnut Grove — whose tallest player is Getz at six-foot-four — is their tenacity rebounding, especially on the offensive board.

In Friday's semifinal, the out-rebounded the taller Irish 48-45.

"That has been our trademark all year," Bergen said.

"When you are shorter, you have to scrap it out and get after the loose balls."

Walnut Grove's Ethan McKean goes up for a lay-up against the Vancouver College Fighting Irish. Mckean led the Gators with 18 points as they advanced to the championship final with a 61-60 victory.

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