The ball had scarcely left the hands of six-foot-seven forward Milan Mitrovic when more than 150 fans of Kitsilano and St. George’s rushed the court to celebrate—both sides thinking their team had won the Lower Mainland AAA boys championship.
Mitrovic grabbed the ball out of the air off a shot that dropped a foot short of its target and laid it in to stroke the net as the last nanosecond ticked off the clock. Mitrovic didn’t beat the buzzer so much as leave it bruised.
March 3 at St. George’s, the Saints edged the Kitsilano Blue Demons 58-57 to claim the No. 1 Lower Mainland seed at provincials.
But confusion and chaos claimed centre court. Kitsilano players disputed the call, pleading their case with the time-keepers, the press and game announcers. They said they stopped playing. They’d seen one if not two referees blow down the play. Time had run out.
The lead official rushed to the scorer’s table on the sideline between the benches to confirm the shot was good. St. George’s winning 58 points flashed red on the scoreboard.
Then the three referees hustled from the gym.
Kitsilano coach Randy Coutts paced the sideline, looking for an answer. He thought the shot was called off. Saints coach Guy da Silva cursed in his direction.
The loud throng that chanted all night for the Blue Demons and taunted St. George’s with “Please don’t sue us” faded away. St. George’s supporters, dressed in red T-shirts pledging, “We are one,” melted in to embrace the jubilant Saints players.
St. George’s home gymnasium, emblazoned with a mural of the school’s emblematic saint directing his weapon at the enemy, hosted one of Vancouver’s greatest ever high school boys basketball rivalries and championship finishes.
A game of adult politics, posturing, ego and personality played out before and throughout the tournament, but the teenagers, their athleticism and intensity, and the excitement of high school hoops remained the main attraction Saturday night.
St. George’s, the No. 2 independent school team behind Vancouver College, wouldn’t have qualified for the tournament if not for their stellar regular season, which raised them to No. 3 in B.C. Their appeals to join the 12-team Lower Mainland draw were twice denied until the board of governors for the B.C. High School Boys Basketball Association upheld their request. The school’s lawyers then threatened legal action if the Saints were denied direct entry into the tournament, which created a 13-team draw.
The Saints went 4-0 on the basketball court, holding down two rivals in the process. To reach the final they beat Vancouver College by 16.
The championship game started quickly with a breakaway bucket from Kitsilano’s Tom Campbell right off the tip. Two more baskets from Luka Zaharijevic gave the Blue Demons an early 6-0 advantage and they led 19-11 after the first quarter and 29-22 at the half.
To chants of “MVP, MVP,” Zaharijevic battled for position in the paint against a double-team of Saints defenders Mitrovic and Adam Hildebrand. He finished with a game-high 31.
Clashing with Zaharijevic at one end, Mitrovic ratcheted up his score at the other, counting 17 of his 19 points in the second half, including back-to-back three pointers late in the fourth quarter.
With one minute to play, St. George’s had a three-point lead. A Blue Demon bucket from Zaharijevic brought Kitsilano within one, but a foul sent St. George’s Hildebrand to the line where he went one for two.
Saints led 56-54 lead with 22.7 seconds left to play.
Kitsilano moved the ball tentatively until it reached Alex Vidic who sunk his first basket of the night, a three-point exclamation mark to give the Blue Demons a one-point lead and send their fans into a frenzy.
The Saints inbounded the ball with 9.1 seconds remaining. A shot from outside missed the rim but was caught by Mitrovic—later named the game MVP—who put the ball up and in for the win as the clock ran out.
Heading to the B.C. provincial championships March 13 to 17 at the Langley Events Centre, St. George’s is the No. 1 Lower Mainland team followed by Kitsilano, Vancouver College, Tupper and Point Grey.