Burnaby South's Jermaine Hayley is best known for his offensive talents, but it was his effort on defence that helped the Rebels to a first-ever provincial junior varsity basketball title.
Hayley and company shutdown No. 3-ranked Pitt Meadows in the second half in a thrilling 40-38 comeback win in the championship finals of the B.C. high school boys' junior basketball championships at Vancouver College on Saturday.
Hayley, a tournament MVP for a second consecutive year, scored 13 points and had seven rebounds for South, but it was the 6-5 top prospect's work on Pitts' big man Graham Smith that made all the difference.
Smith, alongside teammate Jordan Murley, had a combined 25 points in the opening half for Pitt, including 10 in the second quarter.
"Their big man was really killing us down low. We just played great defence in the second half," said Hayley. "We've had some ups and downs this season, but I thought, as a group, we played our best basketball down the stretch."
That stretch included a first provincial Grade 9 title as juveniles last year.
The second half of the junior final was a far different story than the first as South slammed shut the door, allowing the Fraser Valley champs just 11 points the rest of the way, including a miniscule deuce in the final eight minutes of play.
"What we really took away was their big man. We put our best guy on him and (Hayley) really fought hard for us," said South co-coach Mike Bell.
Trailing by just seven points heading into the third quarter, South chipped away at the lead, outpointing Pitt 12-9 in the opening quarter to close within four points of the leader.
Second team all-star Tyus Batiste then stepped up with 11 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, including three of four three-pointers.
Batiste opened the fourth quarter with a bomb to close the deficit to a single point. His second of the quarter proved the game-winner - a baseline trey with 2:23 minutes left on the clock.
South guard E.J. Mabone then all but sealed the win with a great attempted steal in the Rebels' end that led to a jump ball and a Rebel possession with just 7.4 seconds left in the game.
"We were (nervous). We had lost to (Pitt) twice this year. ... But we knew what to do - calm down and my teammates trusting me to shoot," said Batiste. "It was a bigger, harder game than last year, that's for sure."
Getting to the final was also no cakewalk. South upset No. 1-ranked Winston Churchill 68-48 in an emotional semifinal on Friday to advance to the junior final.
First team all-star Nicolas Trninic scored 16 of his team-high 21 points in the win over Churchill.
"I don't think we've really been in a game that big, but we settled in and played big again today," Hayley said. "Our coaches did a great job calming us down and letting us know what we had to do to win. It was a great win."
On Thursday, the Rebels knocked off No. 5-ranked St. Michaels 62-52 and No. 12 Semiahmoo 78-52 in the tournament opener to stay on the championship side of the draw.
"That's amazing to see the boys come back like that," Bell added. "We told the boys go to the hoop and get our shots that way. But Tyus showed up in the second half for us. ... He's our little firecracker. It was very emotional."
A junior team from South has finished in the top seven twice in the past four seasons, including a 62-51 loss to College in the 2009 championship final. The junior Rebels also placed a team sixth in 2011.
Burnaby independent St. Thomas More placed 11th overall following a 51-45 win over Okanagan Mission. The Knights were upset 45-44 in overtime by the Northwest champion Charles Hayes Rainmakers in the provincial opener.