Birch Hills bests Norquay for 3A Hoopla title shot

Birch Hills Marauders guard Simon Rask (11) drives the net while the Norquay Knights try to defend him during Hoopla 2018 3A action from Prince Albert on March 23, 2018. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Come Saturday evening, the Birch Hills Marauders will have a chance to accomplish a feat 21 years in the making: Win gold at Hoopla; the last time they’ve done that was in 1997.

The boys team got one step closer to that goal Friday night, after beating the Norquay Knights 89-63 in the semifinal game, advancing to the provincial 3A final.

Birch Hills overcame a tough, physical Norquay squad that used its gritty defence and physicality to try to slow down the Marauders.

By halftime, Birch Hills was up 41-31 on Norquay, but the lead didn’t come easily, according to grade 12 guard Simon Rask.

“We got off to a pretty good start in the first quarter. Then there was a stretch there where we didn’t score for a bit and they came back into it,” he said. “It was really physical and a lot of threes.”

Once the third quarter started, the Marauders started pulling away with the score. They used precision passing on offence, lots of motion as they cycled the ball in the Knights’ zone and a willingness to drive the net hard.

When there was no open pass, the Marauders were quick to change their position to create open passing lanes.

Even as Knights defenders kept trying to block Marauders shooters on layup attempts, the Birch Hills squad kept driving to the net.

Birch Hills Marauders player John Simpso (4) drives the net against the Norquay Knights during Hoopla 2018 3A action from Prince Albert on March 23, 2018. — Evan Radford/Daily

At the start of the fourth quarter, the Marauders were up 63-51.

“It was a battle all the way through,” Birch Hills head coach Darrin Rask said. “It just started to flow in the second half and the shots started falling. I think that was the key: We just outworked them.”

In the game’s final quarter, the Marauders pushed their lead higher, scoring 26 points to the Knights’ 12 to finish with the win.

Rask finished the game with 30 points; his younger brother, grade 9 guard Levi, did him one better by finishing the game with 31 points, including six of his team’s nine three-point field goals.

The elder brother said he and his team are excited to be playing for a Hoopla gold medal, while maintaining a focused disposition on the task ahead.

He also underscored the work his team undertook to get to this point in its season. “The qualifying games were hard. We played all four qualifying games at our home gym, which was nice, because we’ve got a nice, small gym that we’re used to, and other teams aren’t used to it.

“We consistently scored really well, our young guys have particularly scored a lot. They score sometimes more than our grade 12s,” he said.

The Marauders now advance to the Hoopla 3A boys final game, where they’ll face the Regina Christian School Grizzlies on Saturday at 5 p.m. in Carlton high school’s red gym.

The Grizzlies won their semifinal game 105-58 against the Clavet Cougars. The Grizzlies are last year’s defending Hoopla champions.