Panthers off to BCs for first time in 63 years

Semiahmoo, Lord Tweedsmuir reach semifinals at Fraser Valley basketball tournament

A pair of long droughts in basketball have ended at a pair of Surrey high schools.

The Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers and Semiahmoo Totems have clinched berths to next month’s Senior Boys 4A B.C. Championship Tournament, ending dry spells that had lasted for decades.

The Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers are going to the championship tournament in the highest tier for the first time since 1953.

“It’s been building for a few years now,” said Tweedsmuir athletic director Brien Gemmell. “I actually thought we had a better shot in 2012, but we ran into some injuries.

“They (Panthers) went to Nova Scotia in the first week of February, and it was minus-25 so they were together a lot. That team building really worked. That, and getting healthy and peaking at the right time.”

The Panthers were seeded 10th for the 16-team playoff, but pulled off two upsets to reach the semifinal round and assure themselves of a top four placing. Six teams from the Fraser Valley advance to the BC Championships March 11-14 at the Langley Events Centre.

Lord Tweedsmuir defeated the Earl Marriott Mariners 93-41 in a sudden-death game last Wednesday (Feb. 18), then surprised the Pitt Meadows Marauders 80-77 at Walnut Grove Secondary in Langley on Friday.

In the quarterfinal round Monday night, the Panthers stunned the host Walnut Grove Gators 75-68 to reach the final four. Iqwinder Gill, Anthony Kucharek and Justin Mason were the leading scorers  against the Gators.

“The kids know what they’ve done,” said Panthers head coach Raj Bagry. “But it’s bigger than they realize. It’s been 63 years, right.

“And it’s not just six or seven guys. One of our goals was to use our bench more. And after the trip to Nova Scotia, they’re playing not for themselves, but for everyone around them.”

For Semiahmoo, it’s been 38 years since the Totems qualified for the provincial championship tournament.

“The kids are pretty excited, this has been a long time coming,” said Totems  coach Edward Lefurgy. “But it didn’t come out of the blue. We could have done it last year, and this group has been to the provincials before at the Grade 10 level.”

Seeded seventh, the Totems blew past their first two opponents at the Fraser Valley tournament. They pummeled the W.J. Mouat Hawks 104-66 last Friday, then surprised the Holy Cross Crusaders 112-68 at Holy Cross high school Monday evening.

Lefurgy credited the huge offensive output to the team’s strong defensive play, noting “we’re getting a lot of stops, so we’re getting the ball more.”

Brian Spanier with 29 points and Patrick Dujmovic with 25 were the top scorers.

Lefurgy was impressed by the play of Grade 10 call-up Brian Wallack, who scored 10 points and “came in and competed.”

The Panthers and Totems will play in a semifinal game tomorrow at 8:15 p.m. in the Langley Events Centre, the winner to play for a Fraser Valley championship at 4 p.m. Saturday, the loser to tip-off in a game for third/fourth place at 2 p.m.

“We still have a lot too do,” said Bagry. “The kids have bigger goals. If they’re satisfied, we’re in trouble.”

Four other Surrey schools are among eight teams in the consolation bracket seeking the fifth and sixth berths from the Fraser Valley to the provincials. The Tamanawis Wildcats, Holy Cross, Panorama Ridge Thunder and North Surrey Spartans play today, each needing two wins to qualify.

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