By Darren Lum
Published Feb. 20 2018
Let’s go Red Hawks! This was the chant shouted in unison from the crowd watching the Hawks’ senior basketball team in the last minutes of the Kawartha Championship final on Wednesday Feb. 14 in Haliburton.
With a 50-47 lead the Hawks faithful were proving invaluable shouting cheering and willing their team to secure the win for a top seed into the COSSA playoffs.
Hawks point guard Kyle Cooper who was formidable at both ends of the court rebounding or leading fast-break scores with bullet passes came up with a big block sending his bench and the crowd into a frenzy.
Then Owen Patterson-Smith sank a three-pointer to not just extend the lead to six 53-47 but had virtually everyone in the gym in hysterics. The Titans answered with their own three-pointer to narrow the gap to a one possession game with a little more than a minute left. That was as close as it got as the Hawks held on for the 57-50 win.
From the semi-final 67-51 win against Campbellford earlier in the day to the victory over the Titans in the final the Hawks showed a relentless pursuit of the ball on both ends of the floor. Their tenacity in the paint was exemplary and the effort to hit the deck for loose balls was without comparison.
Coming into the playoffs the head-to-head between these teams was a different story than what played out in the final. Haliburton dominated the Titans 53-33 in both regular season meetings.
However the coaching staff expected a close game despite the regular season because the Titans were missing their starting player Chris Flynn.
“We beat them by 20 points both times. I was like Chris is probably good for 15 so I knew it was going to be a tight game. When we were down by four at the half I was like ‘yeah this is the game we signed up for. So let’s dig deep and let’s get it done’” Longo said.
Flynn ended up leading all players with 27 points more than half his team’s total.
The first half of the game was a back-and-forth affair.
There were several lead changes and momentum shifts. At the half the Hawks were down four losing 33-29.
Longo said during this break he encouraged his players and emphasized the importance of rebounding and that they needed to improve from the second half.
“I thought we really stepped it up in the second half on boxing out and getting in better position for rebounding and getting the transition game going” he said.
He adds the team were better in the second half in all facets of the game.
Most notably was how the Hawks’ composure improved in the second.
Longo acknowledged the challenge facing the officials and commended them on their efforts.
In the second half he reminded his players to forget about calls they perceived as unjust and play.
“If we don’t pay some respect to referring it’s not going to help us in the fourth quarter so I’m really proud of the way they settled down and kept their composure. Especially with not talking to the refs about anything and just playing the game. Then we got a couple of calls in the fourth quarter that could have gone either way. They went our way. That’s a credit to our guys for keeping our composure and being respectful” he said.
Cooper led the Hawks with 19 points while Patterson-Smith scored 17 points 11 of which were in the second half. Forward Zak Shantz was steady and put in a workman- like performance scoring eight points.
He credited his younger second unit players coming off the bench and doing their jobs.
This included Grade 11 point guard Austin French who came up “clutch” and Grade 11 Steve Dudgeon. French finished with several steals (two in a row) and five points (all in the second half) but also used his vision to find players stretching the defence.
Dudgeon a rookie was called into action to replace injured teammates Rylan Gwyn who was injured in the semi-finals and Kade Bain who was injured in the final and left on the bench with his shoe off. He played well guarding the Titans’ centre Jacob Thalen who finished with 16 points. Thalen was limited to three points in the second half thanks to Dudgeon.
“Stevie D stepped up big time in the middle. Did some really good on D” he said.
Also Coleman Heaven played well Longo said.
“My younger guys … I wish I could’ve got everybody on the floor in the final but sometimes in those kind of games it’s tough. It’s my one little regret. It’s nice to get a Kawartha championship under our belt” he said.
He recognized his players’ disappointment for those who didn’t play.
Holding on to this victory after a tough battle is going to give his team confidence they can play in tight games heading into COSSA he said.
The win also assures the Hawks are the top seed from Kawartha and will play the second seed from the Quinte area. Before it was decided (at the time of the interview) he expected perennial basketball powerhouse Nicholson to make it to COSSA hosted by St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School in Peterborough this Thursday. Haliburton as the top seed was going to host COSSA but due to a scheduling conflict deferred.
“It’s nice not to have to see them first. I think that’s good for our guys” he said.
Longo has already told his players that winning COSSA semi-final is the equivalent of making it to the all-provincials.
“To me that’s like an OFSAA berth” he said.
Nicholson won the OFSAA bronze medal last year and the core group is returning with high expectations so they will be strong and a tough test.
“But you know what? We’re going to go down there and give them everything we got. You got to play the game. You know. You never know what can happen. These two wins today do a heck of a lot for our confidence going forward” he said.