The Ontario Cup championship weekend didn’t start out the way coach Jonathon Thorpe and his Niagara Rangers U19 men’s basketball squad had hoped.
But they still were proud to bring home a bronze medal.
After a season in which the team had not lost a single player due to injury or illness, the Rangers were hit hard on the eve of the June 2 to 4 championship.
“We started the weekend with two of our starters with a stomach bug (NOTL players Chad Thorpe and Graham Midgley),” said Thorpe, the Niagara-on-the-Lake resident who coaches the regional team.
“And neither had eaten on Wednesday or Thursday,” he added.
“Plus, we had our first player off the bench (Dylan Durlov) roll his ankle while trying out for a summer basketball team,” the coach said.
“He did not play on Friday but toughed it out for the other three games and actually had a really strong game on Saturday afternoon.”
Normally an offensive powerhouse with a strong defensive mindset, the Rangers lost their first game Friday night 57-40 to eventual silver medallists the Barrie Royals.
Only scoring 40 points was out of character, Thorpe noted.
“All season we had been putting up a lot more than that. We just didn’t have the offensive firepower we were used to.”
Game two against the East York Eagles proved much different.
The Rangers played tough defence to neutralize their opponent’s strongest player and pulled out the win handily, 73-49.
Next up against the Kitchener-Waterloo Vipers, “We were back to full strength and it showed” as Niagara pulled away in the second half for a 57-41 victory.
That first-game loss to Barrie proved costly, seeding the Rangers second overall, meaning they would play for the bronze medal on Sunday.
“The bronze medal game was a dominating performance from beginning to end,” Thorpe said.
Niagara won decisively, 74-52 over the Collingwood Trailblazers.
“Defensively we completely frustrated the opposition and offensively the ball was moving well and we were hitting shots.”
Kai Schatz led with 24, Chad Thorpe added 16 and Ben Johnson scored 12, despite rolling his ankle halfway through the second quarter and not playing again after that.
“In all, it has been a fantastic season,” Coach Thorpe said.
“Bronze medalists in Division 1 of the Ontario Basketball Association is quite an accomplishment for these young men.”
The Rangers ended the year with 19 wins and just five losses playing against some of the best teams in the province.