Gators show their teeth in third quarter, knock off top-ranked Yale in league final

Walnut Grove Gators
Walnut Grove Gators' David Wolde-Mariam (#14) and Brad Hoffman double team Yale Lions' JJ Pankratz on a drive to the basket during the Fraser Valley East division champioship game. The Gators won 86-73 in a battle of the top two AAA senior boys basketball teams as Yale was ranked No. 1.
— image credit: John Morrow/Black Press

In a heavyweight battle between the top two teams in B.C., the Walnut Grove Gators landed a knockout punch in the third quarter.

Playing before a standing-room only crowd at Abbotsford’s Yale Secondary on Saturday night in the finals of the Fraser Valley East high school boys basketball playoff tournament, the AAA second-ranked Gators and the top-ranked Yale Lions fought to a 41-41 stalemate at halftime.

But after the break, Walnut Grove seized control, out-scoring Yale 38-11 during a stunning third quarter, closing the frame on a decisive 26-3 run, and cruised to an 86-73 win.

“We tried to transition, push the ball – we were trying to wear them down,” Gators coach George Bergen said afterward. “I think our ability to run is the best in the province, to me. I think that was the difference – when we run, we are pretty good.”

In the third quarter, Yale had no answer for Walnut Grove’s defence, which continuously forced missed shots and turnovers, with the Gators getting out in transition and running the ball.

Jadon Cohee paced a balanced Walnut Grove attack with 18 points, and Josh Mayorga (15 points) and Sam Shin (14) also chipped in offensively for the victors.

Mayorga also came up with a couple of blocked shots while Shin had a few steals.

“We have been like that all season,” Bergen said about his team having multiple scoring options.

“We rarely had scorers in the 30s. It is a balanced team effort.”

The loss was just the second against Canadian competition for the Lions.

“This (loss) is something that was needed,” said Yale coach Al Friesen, noting that Walnut Grove trumped his team in stats that are indicative of hustle — offensive rebounds, recovering loose balls, fast-break layups.

“There’s no team that’s that much better than anybody in this province, at the top . . . On a given day, it’s partly who’s hot, but who mentally comes the most ready to play and most ready to compete is going to win.”

Despite beating the province’s top-ranked team, the Gators begin play at the Fraser Valley championships seeded second in the 32-team draw.

Yale is third while the White Rock Christian Warriors, who beat the Gators twice this season, earned the top seed.

Walnut Grove only lost three games all season against Canadian teams.

The Gators will play against No. 31 Chilliwack tomorrow (Wednesday) in an elimination game. If they win, they would face either No. 15 Delta or No. 18 North Surrey. Both games are at Walnut Grove.

The Fraser Valley championships continue on Feb. 25 and Feb. 28 before the final eight teams play at the Langley Events Centre on March 1 and 2.

— with files from Dan Kinvig/Black Press

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