Regina Christian tops Birch Hills in hard-fought 3A final

Levi Rask drives to the basket in the second half of the 3A boys final vs. Regina Christian on March 24 at Carlton High School. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

They were the team that just wouldn’t quit.

The Birch Hills Marauders were out to win their first Hoopla boys 3A gold since 1997, facing off against the Regina Christian Grizzlies, a team that had dismantled much of its competition heading into the gold medal game.

Regina was bigger, and had more players on the bench for the finals.

But Birch Hills put up a heck of a fight.

If you only counted the first, second and fourth quarters, it would have been a nail biter. Unfortunately, the third quarter counts too, and a stretch of cold shooting coupled with five minutes of Grizzly dominance spelled the end of the dream for the Marauders.

“They are a very good team,” Marauders coach Darrin Rask said about Regina Christian.

“They have some very good offensive players, and I thought our defence played very strongly in the first half and kept it close, and second half, it just got away from us. We just couldn’t hit some shots, and they are just a very good team and they pulled away from us.”

Grizzlies coach Geoff Glasspell gave Birch Hills a lot of credit.

“That’s a good team over there and the coaches do a great job with them,” he said.

“I know them really well because every year they come down to our tournament and I coach many of their players down at the Briercrest camp. So when I see (Simon) Rask out there and they’re shooting, you still pull for them a little bit but you still want to win. It was a lot of fun. They’re terrifically coached and you can tell they love to play for one another as well.”

The opening minutes didn’t go the way Birch Hills had hoped. They opened giving up an 11-1 run and finding themselves in an early 10-point hole. But they fought back.

Sparked by Dylan Wicks, who stole the ball cleanly and laid it in uncontested, the Marauders started to put some points on the board. They tightened up defensively, too, forcing shot clock violations and missed, rushed shots from the Regina Christian team.

A few three-pointers later, and the first quarter buzzer sounded. 16-10 Regina Christian.

Neither team was able to put any points up on the board to start the second quarter, until the Grizzlies notched a deuce three minutes into the frame.

Birch Hills, though began to push, putting on a two-minute, 7-0 run that energized the Carlton gym full of local fans.

Regina pushed back with a 7-0 run of their own, but Birch Hills kept battling, closing the difference to a mere two points at the half: Regina 31, Birch Hills 29.

The Marauders, though, started the third quarter much the same way they started the first, missing shots and losing battles for rebounds.

Regina took advantage. It seemed like every shot they took found its way into the basket.

Eventually Birch Hills started getting some points on the board. But the damage was done.

The two-point deficit had ballooned into a 15-point hole with only one quarter to go.

That third quarter was the key for Regina Christian.

“We needed to score,” Glasspell said. “I know that sounds funny, but they tried to slow it down and get into a mucky game. We needed to speed it up and get the ball going in transition. We had about a five minute span we out-transitioned them substantially, and that changed the game in our favour.”

Despite facing a huge deficit, one that eventually topped out at 21 points, the Marauders didn’t give up. As the game went on they fought with more and more desperation until the very last buzzer.

The Birch Hills Marauders pose for a team photo after receiving silver medals in the Hoopla 3A Boys final on March 24 in Prince Albert. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“For three of our guys in Grade 12, it’s the last game they’re gong to play, so (they) came out and worked as hard as they could in the last minute to go out like that,” Rask said.

For Regina, the 74-56 victory was a fitting end to what started as a challenging season.

“At the beginning of the year we struggled to even get players to come out and play this year, and we lost others to a couple of schools,” Glasspell said.

“So to win on the back end of this is pretty special.”

And while it wasn’t the outcome they’d hoped for, Rask was proud of his team, and happy to play in such a major tournament only 30 minutes from home.

“It’s been awesome,” he said of the tournament.

“The fans and support we got has been great. These kids are going to remember this for a long time.”