Crusaders down Royals; advance to Hoopla semifinals

Carlton Crusaders guard Gage Grassick (5) drives the net while Riffel Royals player Olivia Ell (12) tries defending her during 5A girls Hoopla action from Prince Albert's Carlton high school on March 22, 2018. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Carlton girls out-rebound, out-hustle Regina Riffel Royals for 21-point win on opening night

Backed by their booming, boisterous fans in their packed home gym, the Carlton Crusaders knocked off the Regina Riffel Royals 76-55 in the 5A girls division to advance to the Hoopla semifinals.

“We were so ready to play and so excited for our fans. It’s crazy to see the amount of support we got … the atmosphere was crazy,” grade 10 guard Gage Grassick said after the win.

Prince Albert’s Carlton high school is one of the host sites for Hoopla this year. Carlton’s 5A girls team is the lone Prince Albert team to qualify for a chance at this year’s provincial high school basketball title.

Red-clad Crusaders fans packed four sections of bleachers at Carlton’s main gym. They were cheering, hooting and hollering for the Crusaders, oftentimes drowning out the respectable contingent of Royals fans cheering on Riffel.

In the game’s latter stages, Carlton fans begun chanting “MVP, MVP, MVP,” for Grassick whenever she touched the ball.

“It depended on my team; my team helped me play that way; they were the real MVPs, not me. It was my team that helped me succeed, and we all just rose to the occasion,” she said.

Grassick finished the game with 11 points. She was often a driving force behind Carlton’s offence, whether driving the net for a basket, finding an open pass or springing fast breaks towards Riffel’s end after creating a turnover.

“We’re a really fast team, and we have such great chemistry; we know where each other is going to be, and we can play at that tempo,” she said.

Grassick also rotated into the point guard position when called upon, along with fellow teammates Alex Soyko, Taryn Izsak and regular point guard Payton Izsak.

For all the Crusaders’ success with speed and transition play, they dominated portions of the game in the paint, often winning rebounds. That point wasn’t lost on Riffel head coach Cymone Bernauer.

“We got out-rebounded early, pretty much for the whole first half. They got a lot of second-chance points. We just couldn’t get any rebounds or second-chance points,” she said. “I don’t know if we were nervous or not ready. Just it wasn’t the kind of Riffel team that we’re used to having.”

An example of that was grade 10 guard Kennedy Hollinger. In the Royals’ bronze medal win against the Campbell Tartans to advance to Hoopla, Hollinger willed the Royals to victory: She scored 47 points in the game for an 85-75 win on March 14.

Though she was effective and at times beat the Crusaders on Thursday, she couldn’t muster more than 17 points against the Crusaders defence.

Carlton’s head coach, Jenn Ferguson, chalked up that part of her team’s win to diligent pre-grame preparations and studying the Royals.

“It goes a long way if you can find something out about your opponent. So we knew where their scoring was going to come from. Our girls were prepared to defend it; we worked really hard on defending someone who can light it up for 47 points in one game,” she said.

In her post-game assessment, Hollinger said she thought the Royals had a better second half in terms of fighting for rebounds, creating second chances at baskets and converting shots.

But she also said that her team seemed to be more rushed than normal.

“It was kind of hectic, and everything was all over. Shots weren’t going in, we weren’t taking our time. We were kind of going through the motions, and not really doing anything,” she said.

After their loss, the Royals will play the Regina O’Neill Titans on Friday morning. The Titans lost to the Saskatoon Aden Bowman Bears 60-48 on Thursday. The winner of the Riffel-O’Neill game earns a berth in the consolation game, which is slated for Saturday morning at 9 a.m.

Meanwhile, the Crusaders advance to the Hoopla semifinals, where they’ll face Aden Bowman on Friday at 6 p.m. at St. Mary high school. The winner of that game will play the winner of Saskatoon Centennial and Regina Leboldus; their semifinal game is set for 7:45 p.m. on Friday.