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Knights overcome fouls, feisty foe to net B.C. berth

A post-game Happy Birthday serenade was icing on the cake for St. Thomas More senior girls basketball coach Jen Farano. The biggest gift on Tuesday was the win, moments earlier, in PoCo.
Brooklyn Monks
St. Thomas More's Brooklyn Monks, shown during last year's playoffs, helped the Burnaby squad advance to the B.C. AA senior girls basketball championships in a wildcard win over St. John Brebeuf on Tuesday.

A post-game Happy Birthday serenade was icing on the cake for St. Thomas More senior girls basketball coach Jen Farano.

The biggest gift on Tuesday was the win, moments earlier, in PoCo.

The Knights were forced into a must-win neutral-site playoff with the St. John Brebeuf Bears, with the winner earning a ticket to the 2-A senior girls provincials, which run Feb. 27 to March 2 in Langley.

“This is my birthday present. Today is my birthday and I did say I really would like to get a win,” said Farano, glowing following the team’s big fourth quarter.

As comfortable as 62-50 looks on paper, STM’s win over Brebeuf was anything but.

A 16-5 run over the final five minutes gives a false impression after getting stalked by a hungry, young Bears squad. Otherwise, it was a nailbiter where a heavy balance of fouls against the Knights created an uphill battle.

While Knights fans in attendance voiced their disapproval of the officiating in loud but clean language, the team did its best to stay on track. In the end, that was the best approach.

“We had to really make sure we were rotating the right people in because it was 5-0 for fouls and in one quarter it was 8-1,” remarked Farano. “It was a little bit tricky. ... We tell the girls all the time they have to adjust to how the referees are refereeing the game. It took them until the fourth quarter before they figured it out.”

Prior to that, it was a balancing act. The Knights two post players, Brooklyn Monks and Shiloh Corrales Nelson, drew a lot of attention and found themselves taking turns on the sidelines, due to fouls and Farano’s  choice to run with an extra guard to match Brebeuf’s smaller, quick lineup.

Ahead by as much as five over much of the first half, STM suddenly found itself on the hot seat when the Bears’ Grade 10 Ashley Smith started to ring up the points, giving the Abbotsford team a 20-17 lead.

Before halftime, the Knights regained the lead on back-to-back buckets from twins Gigi and Bella Gaspar.

What was a 28-25 STM lead to start the second half became a see-saw battle where the two squads traded buckets, until Bella Gaspar, Emma Stewart Barnett and Gigi Gaspar, on a layup, combined to boost the Knights by eight.

In the fourth frame, once again Brebeuf rallied, with Smith converting a turnover to tie the game.

But Gigi Gaspar bagged one bucket, on an assist from Cassiel Penalosa, then 49 seconds later drained a three-pointer to make it 46-41.

Although the Bears closed to within a point, their chance to pick up momentum was hampered by a shaky run from the free throw line, going just three-for-12 during a stretch in the second half, and 13-for-30 on the day.

“We decided to put more guards on the floor to keep tempo up and transition up, and that’s what saved us in the end. Give credit where credit is due, (Brebeuf is) a great little team of all Grade 10s. They’ll be back next year with a vengeance,” said Farano.

Gigi Gaspar finished with a team-high 18 points, while Monks delivered 11 despite sharing floor time with Corrales Nelson. Stewart Barrett added 10 points in support. Smith led the Bears with 20 points, while Marijke Duralia tallied 19 points.

“It was a huge game. We only had a couple days to prepare but we knew we had to come in strong,” remarked co-captain Brooklyn Monks, who along with Corrales Nelson, fouled out in the fourth quarter. “It was a bit of a rough start but we are a good fourth-quarter team and we knew that. Right before the fourth quarter started, we knew the bench had to be big, we had to transition and that’s what we did.”

The Knights were forced into a wildcard game after placing fourth at the Lower Mainlands, where a 79-76 overtime loss to Britannia derailed their title ambitions.

Monks, who sank the game-tying shot to force overtime, said that result may have provided a boost for the future run.

“That was tough, because we knew (Britannia) was going to give us a good game, but I don’t think we expected it to be that close. They are super aggressive and an excellent team. I thought we did a really great job and it sucks that we lost in overtime.

“They went on to beat the No. 1 ranked (St. Thomas Aquinas) by 20 points. It’s sad that we lost it’s also a confidence boost that we only lost to them in overtime in their gym, so we know any team in the province we can have a competition with.”

Emma Stewart Barnett and Monks were named as Lower Mainland all stars.

Now, all eyes are on preparing for the provincials.

“It was always the goal. All of the goals we set out, we made or almost made,” said Farano. “We came first in league, (but) we didn’t come top-three at Lower Mainlands like we wanted to. The end result is we’re still going to the BCs. From there anything can happen.”