Southridge Storm put an exclamation point on their first-ever AAA hoops season Saturday, winning the BC Boys High School Basketball Championship with a 78-71 win over Steveston-London.
The provincial title is the first for Southridge – in any sport – at the AAA level. The senior boys team moved up from AA this season, in search of better competition and a better schedule.
And as his team celebrated around him on the Langley Events Centre’s main court, Southridge head coach Steve Anderson reflected on a season that started on the same spot with his squad’s surprise victory at the Tsumura Basketball Invitational back in December – a tournament filled with AAA and 4A powerhouse teams.
“We’ve had some tough games throughout the year, and I think a lot of it was some of the 4A competition we played. We went down to California this year, too, and had a lot of tough games there, and I think that really helped us take that next step,” he said.
“The better teams you play, the better it makes you.”
In the end, there was no team better than the No. 1-seeded Storm, though Richmond’s Steveson-London Sharks made it awfully close.
The teams traded buckets in the first half, with Southridge led by guard Mathew Andreou, who scored nine of his team’s first 13 points. Steveston, meanwhile, kept pace and led 38-37 at halftime.
Southridge made a run to start the second half, and led by six after three quarters and had a nine-point lead at one point in the fourth, but the Sharks rallied back, largely thanks to the dominating play of six-foot-nine Grade 11 forward Fardaws Airaq, who was a force under the basket and finished with a game-high 40 points and 32 rebounds.
“He’s definitely tough to deal with. He’s not just tall, he’s heavy – you can’t just move him from underneath the basket. He was a challenge,” said Storm’s Dominic Clayton, who finished the game with 17 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. “It was definitely stressful at times, but we got it done and it feels amazing.”
Andreou finished the game with 19 points, while Landon Gill had 13 rebounds.
Like his coach, Clayton – who was named a tournament second-team all-star after the game – said “it’s definitely fitting” that his team’s successful season ended with a victory at the LEC.
Trailing by two points after a three-point shot from Steveston’s Nigel Boyd, Southridge regained the lead with under four minutes to go in the game after a three-pointer from Hunter Hughes, and then hung on to win.
Up 73-71 with 30 seconds to go, Southridge Grade 11 Landon Gill corralled the biggest rebound of the game – and of the Storms’ season – off a Steveston miss. With Southridge in possession of the ball and the clock ticking, the Sharks were forced to start fouling in an attempt to regain the ball.
Storm players hit their foul shots in the waning seconds, however, to extend the lead to seven points.
Hughes, a six-foot-eight senior, missed a few shots in the first quarter, but got better as the game wore on, finishing with 29 points and 18 rebounds.
He was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“That’s just what he does. He’s a physical specimen and a really special player. He just keeps on going, and we knew we could lean on him when we needed him,” Anderson said.
While Airaq proved nearly impossible to stop at times, Anderson said he never lost confidence in his team’s chances, though he did admit to battling some nervous energy – but not just in the fourth quarter.
“Man, I was nervous that whole game,” he laughed. “We knew (Airaq) was going to get some points – he’s a great player, but we thought if we did a good job on their other players, we’d have an opportunity to pull out the win, and it worked out.
“Our group is just so resilient. We didn’t even win our regular-season league title, so to go from that to a provincial championship, it just shows you that the hard work you put in really does pay dividends in the end.”