The Sa-Hali Sabres couldn't have dreamed up a worse start to their provincial AA girls basketball championship opener, and they couldn't have dreamed up a better finish.
The Sabres defeated the North Vancouver-Windsor Dukes 48-43 to open the 16-team tournament at the Tournament Capital Centre. Sa-Hali is off to the quarterfinals, where it will meet the Nanaimo-Wellington Wildcats today, 5 p.m., at the TCC.
The Sabres, whose No. 12 ranking left them underdogs against the No. 5 Dukes, were down 11 points after a quarter. Sa-Hali slowly chipped away at the lead and, by the end of the third quarter, had tied the game at 34.
After that, it was all Sabres.
"Once we made a couple of shots, we killed it," said Sabres centre Haley Cochran, who scored 10 points in the victory. "The bench was in it and everything on the court felt amazing after (the first quarter). We just picked it up by a million."
If you tuned in for only the first 10 minutes, you would have thought one thing: Blowout.
The Dukes, led by Sherrie Errico, took a 10-point lead in the first seven minutes, and were ahead by 11 at quarter's end. The Sabres looked powerless to stop Windsor, which put up 21 points - many of them on easy drives and second-chance baskets - in the quarter.
But Sa-Hali got more comfortable in the second quarter, and starting getting aggressive on both ends of the floor.
"We thought if we played well defensively, we had a chance," said Sabres head coach Jody Vosper. "That first half offensively, we just didn't execute well enough to get scores . . . and in the second half, we attacked more. But our defence was the difference."
Sa-Hali was down seven at the half, but even that seemed like a big hole considering the teams had combined for only 47 points by that point.
But the Sabres kept rolling, rolling, rolling . . . and had tied things up at 34 after three quarters. In the fourth, with all the momentum and confidence on their side, the Sabres put it away.
"There may have been some nerves early," Vosper said. "I used all of our players through the first half and a bit of the second half. We used more players than them, and I think that wore them out a bit and created a little more space."
Karson Hawgood and Shenise Sigsworth also scored 10 points apiece for the Sabres. Errico had 20 points to lead the Dukes, while Brooklyn Legault had 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Once the Sabres stopped Errico and Legault - Errico had nine points in the first quarter, while Legault scored seven - the game turned in their favour.
"Our game plan was to try to keep the ball out of (Errico's) hands," Vosper said. "She's very talented, she can go left or right, hit the three."
As strong as the Sabres were in the final three quarters, allowing only 22 points, Errico did all she could to bring her side back. She made a three-pointer and two foul shots in the final five minutes as Windsor cut the lead to a point.
But Sigsworth answered right back, and Cochran made it a five-point game with 1:54 left.
The Sabres, who felt a little offended by the No. 12 ranking they received before the tournament, will have their hands full with No. 4 Wellington. The last time the teams met, the Wildcats won by 19.
This time, the Sabres have momentum, confidence and the home crowd on their side.
"It was such a good game," Cochran said. "We're feeling really good. That was a great team effort."
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The victory means Vosper has a scheduling conflict for today.
He coaches his daughter's Grade 7 team at David Thompson elementary - it is scheduled to play in the city final against OLPH at 5 p.m.
Because that is the same time as the Sabres' game, Vosper was scrambling Wednesday to get the Grade 7 game changed.
Brocklehurst and Lloyd George will meet in the Grade 7 boys final, at 6:30 p.m.
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