In the end, the depth and height of the Walnut Grove Gators were too much to handle for the Holy Cross Crusaders.
The Gators got 25 points apiece from Ty Rowell and Brett Christensen while James Woods added 20 — including a dozen in the first quarter alone — as the Gators overwhelmed the Crusaders 91-70 on Sunday night in front of a standing room-only crowd of more than 1,000 fans at the Langley Events Centre.
The two senior boys basketball teams were playing in the championship final of the Fraser Valley 4A tournament.
Walnut Grove was seeded No. 1 while Holy Cross came in at No. 2.
“Holy Cross played a very good game but we withstood the pressure and made some good decisions,” said Gators coach George Bergen, whose team has lost just twice this season and only once against B.C. competition.
“It didn’t surprise me the pressure they put on because they have athletic guys. We had our moments, but overall we took care off the ball.”
Walnut Grove led 22-14 after one quarter and 45-31 at the half. The Crusaders would get the lead down to eight points in the third quarter, but could get no closer.
Crusaders coach Anthony Pezzente said Walnut Grove’s height advantage was just too much to overcome.
“I am proud of our fight but when you are that big like them, you need some shots to go in for us and we didn’t get them and they hit some shots we didn’t think they could hit,” he said.
Holy Cross was also playing without their best guard, Keegan Konn, whom they lost for the year earlier in the season. It meant they played the majority of the game with two Grade 9s and a Grade 10 as well as a couple of Grade 11s.
Jamal Osee-Anim led Holy Cross with 15 points.
Rowell was named most valuable player — the fourth time he has won an MVP award this season — while both Woods and Christensen were first team all-stars.
“It is awesome. This is my first Fraser Valley title — it is super hard to win. It is probably the next hardest tournament to win other than provincials,” Christensen said.
The lanky forward pulled off a stunning move in the first half on a drive to the basket, somehow corralling the ball behind his back to maintain control but also laying the ball off the glass and in while drawing the foul.
Christensen said he came up with the move during practice earlier this week.
“It was the same situation so I thought I would pull it out and get the crowd fired up,” he said.
“It was a great move, probably the move of the night, maybe of the year,” Bergen said.
“(Brett) can do stuff like that. He is a tremendous athletic guy and it showed.”
Christensen scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter. That included a pair of three pointers.
“I think I am an underrated shooter. They left me open and gave me some space so it was nice to knock down big shots,” he said.
The Gators also got a big performance from Rowell, who picked up yet another MVP award for his efforts.
“Ty does a multitude of good things. Every once in a while he chucks it away, but for the most part, he can go left, he can go right, he can pull up on a dime to shoot it. he can shoot threes, he can take it up the court … he literally lives in the gym,” Bergen said.
The veteran coach was also impressed by some of the team’s younger players, especially with the Gators two big men limited as Jake Cowley — who missed Thursday night’s semifinal with a wonky ankle — played well less than normal, while Andrew Goertzen was hampered by foul troubles.
“I thought some of our younger players came off the bench and did a remarkable job,” Bergen said.
One of those players, Luke Adams stepped in and drew a pair of offensive charges.
The Gators, as well as Holy Cross, now prepare for next week’s BC 4A senior boys provincial championships, which run March 8 to 11 at the LEC.
With 10 days until the tournament begins, Walnut Grove will use that time to heal and practice.
Bergen also said he will continue his program’s tradition of bringing in former Walnut Grove players to talk to the squad.
The Gators finished third at last year’s provincial championships.