Playoff pressure was noticeable in the Wellington Secondary School gymnasium on Thursday. But Nanaimo high school basketball teams rose to the occasion in their first games at the North Island championships.
The senior AA boys’ basketball tournament tipped off Thursday. The Cedar Spartans lost 80-72 to the Ladysmith 49ers in the early game, but the Woodlands Eagles defeated the Timberline Wolves 59-54 and then the Wellington Wildcats handled the Highland Raiders 58-49.
In the feature game, Welly extended a slim halftime lead to a comfortable margin after three quarters, then did enough to hold off Highland down the stretch.
“We played well. At the end of the fourth we hit some of our foul shots,” said Brad Jenks, Wildcats player.
Jenks led his team with 14 points, Ethan Schulz added 12 points and Jin Han scored 11.
The victory put the ’Cats one win away from a berth in the Island championships. Jenks said extending the playoff run would mean “a lot, but we don’t even think about that. Just win the basketball game.”
Woodlands’ win also had an interesting finish, as it took shut-down defence to hold off Timberline down the stretch.
“Overall we played quite well. We came out thinking that they were going to be a pretty tough team and we just played our best,” said Aaron Halsall, Eagles player. “We battled hard and pulled through.”
Bryson Cox led all scorers with 34 points and Erik Van Waes added 11.
The win, combined with an upset elsewhere in the brackets, gave the Eagles a great chance at another win and a berth at Islands. Halsall said his team would have good momentum after its opening-round victory.
The Spartans will have a tougher route after dropping their opener. The loss to the 49ers featured a standout effort by Spartans post player Brendan McCarthy, who scored 42 points.
GAME ON … Wellington plays Ladysmith today (Feb. 17) at 3 p.m. and Woodlands takes on Isfeld at 4:30 p.m. The North Island final will be played Saturday (Feb. 18) at 7:30 p.m. at the Wellington Secondary School gym.