Ron Barry | For the Telegraph-Journal
February 19, 2020
Pick a classification.
Pick a game.
Then buckle up.
When the Final 12 high school varsity basketball showcase hits the TD Station hardwood Friday and Saturday, expect post-ups in the paint, three-pointers from beyond the arc, and this: rivalries.
Opponents that know each other well will be a reoccurring theme as 12 girls and boys teams eye six New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association banners during championship weekend.
Take the girls AA final, for instance: southern rivals Rothesay Netherwood School Riverhawks and Fundy Middle & High School Mariners of St. George go head to head for the fourth time this season Saturday at 6 p.m. For those keeping score, the Mariners lead the series 2-1, including a 69-55 victory earlier this month in regional playoffs. The familiarity between the teams leaves little margin for easy baskets at either end of the floor.
“We have some bigs who are playing well and their No. 8 – Erin Ingalls – is a very, very talented player,” said RNS head coach Geoffrey McCullogh, whose staff includes assistants Anna Simonds, Mark Graham and manager Meiko Miura. “Both teams like to run and the defences are strong. We know what each other can do. I’m sure coach (Ryan) Daye will put
in some new wrinkles from his playbook and so will we, for sure. It’s going to be a good game.”
The hoops extravaganza tips off Friday and Fredericton High’s program will be on full display: at 6:30 p.m., the Black Kats shoot for their third consecutive girls AAA crown when they face the Moncton High Purple Knights while at 9 p.m., the FHS boys attempt to flip the script against Moncton’s Bernice MacNaughton High Highlanders, who beat them 73-69 in last year’s AAA final.
The A division takes centre court in Saturday’s matinee session and it is an all-Hartland Harvey affair. The girls play at 1 p.m. in a rematch of the 2019 final that saw the Harvey High Lakers turn back the Hartland Community School Huskies 64-44. The boys 3:30 p.m. contest features the division’s most dominant teams – over an eight-year span, the reigning-champion Huskies have won three times and the Lakers have raised four banners.
The Final 12 wraps up Saturday at 8:30 p.m. when the Tantramar High Titans of Sackville and the Woodstock High Thunder clash in a battle of boys AA heavyweights – the Titans are reigning champions while the Thunder have won three of last six championships.
Rothesay Netherwood has cobbled together a 25-9 campaign and comes into the final displaying equal parts resiliency and momentum. After its loss to Fundy High in the regionals, the Riverhawks beat Woodstock High 69-54 to secure the Southwest’s third seed. Next up were the sectional playoffs, where RNS topped Miramichi’s James M. Hill High Tommies 65-61 in a semifinal before punching its ticket to TD Station with a 67-51 win over reigning champion Rothesay High Red Hawks.
If the Mariners need a motivational trigger, they may draw from the experience gained in last year’s final when they lost a 70-67 heartbreaker to Rothesay High. And, if RNS is to earn the school’s second girls AA banner – they won in 2010-11 – success will be predicated on the defensive end.
“We are tenacious – it’s defence-first,” said McCullogh of his team, led by the backcourt trio of NBIAA all-star Sophie Milner, Ally McLellan, Sabryna Purich and complemented by Paige Lauwerijssen, Heather Chisholm, Rebecca Isaac, Morgan Lewis, Kayla McCullogh, Allie McGivery, Tochi Nworie, Joy Okingo, Tess Paille, and Emma Saucy. “It’s going to come down to stopping each team’s best players. It is going to come down to defence and taking care of the basketball.
“The girls have come together and peaked at the right time. What we preach, as a coaching staff, is do the simple things – box out, make the right pass, play tough defence… go back to the basics. If you do the basics well, you’re going to win basketball games.”