Basketball: Vancouver’s Little Flower Academy makes gutsy grab for BC crown

UBC-bound Angel Jessica Hanson named tournament MVP

IMMACULATA 68 - 55 LITTLE FLOWER ACADEMY

The juniors who in past years lost their opening games at the BC Championships, grew up and went on a three-game winning streak at the senior girls AA provincial tournament to reach the biggest final of the season Saturday night.

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The No. 6 seed Little Flower Academy Angels fell just short of a B.C. title, losing to the No. 2 Immaculata Mustangs 68-55 at the Langley Events Centre on March 6. Despite the loss, LFA’s star guard Jessica Hanson was named the tournament’s MVP.

The Angels beat Vernon secondary in their opening game and also eliminated St. Thomas Aquinas in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Cross-town Catholic school Notre Dame, seeded eighth, did the Angels the tremendous favour of knocking off No. 1 Duchess Park in a 63-61 upset that pitted the two Vancouver schools against each other in the semifinals at the LEC on Friday night.

The Angels prevailed in a 73-53 win over Notre Dame that set up the championship final against the Mustangs, who were playing up at AA after winning back-to-back single-A crowns. The two teams met at the B.C. Catholics tournament earlier this year, and the outcome was an imbalanced 30-point victory for the Mustangs.

With head coach Kevin Hanson three provinces away with the men’s UBC Thunderbirds at the CIS Canada West basketball championships in Saskatchewan, Angels assistant coach Doug Beers was running the bench.

The scrappy, physical play of the first quarter put Little Flower in the lead 13-12. While still trailing by two points, five-foot-three dynamo Dyniel Rabang put her body on the line at the top of the key and took a charge – and an elbow to the face – that snapped her back in a heap on the hardwood. When the referee punched the air to signal the call, Rabang leapt in the air with her own clenched fists and a massive grin.

Down court, Jessica Hanson nailed a jumper to tie the game at 12. The Angels got a defensive stop and, back on offense, Hanson was fouled and sunk one of two free throws for the go-ahead point to end the quarter.

Critical mismatches in the paint ultimately created a hole the Angels couldn’t climb out of. Immaculata’s six-foot-two centre Nicole Hart did damage with 15 points and 14 rebounds, and the Mustangs’ player of the game Emma Johnson had 21 points, 17 rebounds and five steals.

The squad from Kelowna grabbed 35 offensive boards – nearly half their total 71 team rebounds and one more than the Angels’ total defensive rebounds – for second-chance points that put LFA in a deeper deficit.

On defence, Jessica Hanson and Alessia Risi held Immaculata’s star player Ashlyn Day to a scoreless first quarter. When Day finally scored, it was well into the second but she opened with a pair of trios from opposite corners to snatch the lead away from Little Flower and give Immaculata a 30-23 advantage at half-time. She finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The teams were even with 18 points each in the third quarter, and Immaculata held a seven-point lead. Hanson, named the Angels’ player of the game, had 13 of her game-high 31 points in the third quarter but LFA couldn’t regain the lead. Immaculata outscored LFA by six points in the fourth to win 68-55.

Playing for bronze, Lauren Bondi scored 29 points for Notre Dame but the Jugglers lost 70-62 to St. Thomas Aquinas.

The first team all-stars included Notre Dame’s Jolene Robinson and Bondi as well as Immacuata’s Day and Johnson, and Zion Corrales Nelson from St. Thomas More Collegiate.

mstewart@vancourier.com

twitter.com/MHStewart

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