By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Kingston Impact will play for the Division 2 gold medal Sunday afternoon at the Ontario Basketball midget championship tournament at Queen’s University.
Even if the Impact comes out on top, though, it will be difficult to replicate the joy that eminated from the dramatic victories that led them to the championship match.
Two overtime games were among Kingston’s three victories in preliminary play. One of them required three overtime periods, two of which ended with buzzer-beating three-point baskets by Dylan Medeiros—one of them to prolong the game, and the other finally to give the Impact a 17-68 win over Stoney Creek.
Then came the final game of the round robin, where Sam Pierson made the second of two free throws 3.9 seconds left to tie a game that the Impact would win 64-56 over Guelph after just one measly overtime period.
The cornerstone game of Kingston’s tournament, however, was undoubtedly the game Saturday morning, one that Impact coach Brett Walsh described as “one for the OBA classics."
“It’s the craziest game I’ve been part of,” he said.
Kingston, which defeated the tournament’s top-seeded team, Fire Basketball of Toronto, 62-43 in its opening game Friday night, led Stoney Creek 32-23 early in the third quarter but the teams were tied 46-46 in the dying seconds of regulation time.
Medeiros missed a pair of free throws and Stoney Creek missed a shot at the other end of the floor and the teams embarked on a four-minute extra period. Early in it, Kingston missed some opportunities to put the game away and, as a result, Stoney Creek led by three points with about 15 seconds left, when Walsh called time out.
“We set up a play to get our shooter, Dylan, open,” Walsh said. “He was wide open but a little too far off the three-point line, so they closed out on him. He took a couple of dribbles and put up a prayer, right in front of our bench, five feet outside the three-point line, hand in his face, fading—perfect swish.” The game was tied with four seconds left and Stoney Creek again failed to score on its final trip up the floor and the teams entered a second overtime.
With a chance to put Kingston ahead, Isaac Sanderson made one of two free throws in the dying seconds, instead tying the game, and for the third time, Stoney Creek failed to answer before time expired and a third overtime was required.
“The whole thing was a blur,” Walsh said. “The gym was electric … on loose ball plays, everyone was laying out. Both teams were giving it everything they had.”
The game was tied 68-68 with about 15 seconds left in the third overtime, and Kingston was out of timeouts. The Impact had a defensive stop and brought the ball up the floor.
“We’re running a high-ball screen play that we’d been running all game that was getting us good looks,” Walsh said, “but they kind of jammed us up and stopped us, and we settled for a deep three-pointer.”
The shot by Reegan Comeau, however, grazed the front of the rim and Stoney Creek pulled in the rebound. About eight seconds remained on the clock, but the Stoney Creek player apparently believed there was less time left than that and he immediately heaved the ball down the floor as a desperation shot.
The ball got no farther than the three-point line around the Impact basket, however, and Medeiros hauled the ball in. As the crowd counted down, and a fourth overtime period loomed, Medeiros brought the ball up the floor and, a good 10 feet beyond the three-point arc, he put up a shot. “It was deep,” Walsh said, “right in the guy’s face who was defending him.
“He let it go right at the buzzer, the guy’s hand right in his face. (The ball) didn’t even touch the mesh. It was perfect.”
The victory clinched a berth in the gold medal game, since Guelph was already 0-2 and the Impact now had defeated the two teams that could have matched their two wins.
“My heart goes out those (Stoney Creek) guys because they battled against us and left it all on the floor," Walsh said.
“It was one of those games that you’re going to remember for a long time.”
Sanderson finished the game with 19 points, while Medeiros had 17, Pierson 18 and Comeau 13.
“It was awesome but it was emotionally draining,” Walsh said. “All the guys were exhausted.” As a result, the Impact was flat at the start of its final round-robin game against Guelph.
Nonetheless, Kingston led 16-7 early, but the visitors went on a 20-3 run and they led by five points at halftime. The Impact still trailed by five points early in the fourth quarter when Guelph put on a spurt, to take a 10-point lead, 46-36, into the final five minutes of the game.
Reluctantly, Walsh called for full-court pressure defence.
“We haven’t used it in a few weeks, because it hasn’t been very effective for us,” he said, “but we were desperate. We had to find a way to get a spark.”
A couple of players who hadn’t been big contributors in the previous two games, Kevin Toussaint and Jack Rowlatt, were keys to the success of a press that allowed Kingston to come back and take the lead at 49-48, when Sanderson hit a pair of free throws with 79 seconds left.
After Guelph hit a jump shot to regain the lead, Pierson's foul shot tied the score 50-50 and forced overtime.
The Impact never trailed in the extra period, outscoring Guelph 14-6, with Rowlatt scoring six of those points. In all, he had nine points off the bench in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“We closed that one out,” Walsh said. “We got our heads back in it.”
Though the game’s outcome meant nothing in terms of the Impact’s position in the medal round, Walsh said it was important to win the game, just the same.
“You don’t want to go into the gold medal game on a downslope,” he said. “You don’t want to go in emotionally low, and it was really tough to get back up after that win this morning, to get back into the mental state that we need to be in for tomorrow.
“You need to use that game as a ramp to your success; to build on, to improve for the next day. If it means gutting out a tough win, I’ll take it.”
Pierson, with 18 points, and Sanderson, with 17, led Kingston, which, after some poor foul shooting earlier in the tournament, made 12 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Friday night against the tournament’s top seed, Kingston led 24-22 at halftime and pulled away in the second half. Walsh said the game was characterized by unselfish play, an example of which would be the three times an Impact defender took a charge and landed on his back in the first quarter.
“They’re a very athletic, very fast team, and they like to play at a very quick pace,” Walsh said. “When we took those three charges early it took them out of their rhythm a little bit.”
In what Walsh called the best game his team has played all season, all 11 players played, and nine of them scored. “Every guy was doing great things that we hadn’t seen from them all year,” he said. “I spent half the game with my jaw open. I couldn’t believe it.
“There were 20 to 25 times in that game where there was an opportunity for us to get down on ourselves, and where things could have gone like this,” he continued, pointing his thumb down, “like they have in the past, but they just kept going, staying positive, reminding each other why there were there. (We did) some great things and we beat the top seed in the tournament by 19 points.”
The championship match will be played at 1:30 in the Bartlett Gym in the Queen’s University Phys-Ed Centre.