Burnaby South stakes out top spot with first Fraser North title

Impeccable timing goes a long way towards excellence.

The Burnaby South Rebels aim to prove that point, as they prepare for the last handful of games to their 2019-20 senior boys basketball season.

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The Rebels defended their No. 1-ranking and locked up the first-ever top seed from the new Fraser North zone championships on Sunday, beating the No. 2-rated Centennial Centaurs 76-69 at the Langley Events Centre.

Burnaby South will enter the B.C. 4-A senior boys basketball championships March 4 to 8 with a healthy roster and an eye on keeping the ball rolling.

“It’s just different, different atmosphere and nice to see different teams,” Rebels coach Mike Bell said of the new zone, which saw their old Lower Mainland route merged with the Tri-Cities’ squads that played previously in the cumbersome Fraser Valley district. “It’s tougher though, I have to say. There are less berths going around in these zones and you’re seeing a lot of good teams not (advance). … There are some good upsets and some real good basketball right now.”

Sunday’s game was exactly that, as the two teams sparred for the third time in what was the rubber match for more than mere bragging rights. The winner would enter the provincial tournament as the top seed, and an easier route.

Burnaby South never trailed, but had to fend off challenges early and later by the Coquitlam team. The Rebels' six-foot-10 post Sasha Vujisic did most of the first quarter damage for the Rebels, scoring eight of the team’s first 12 points and putting up an impressive block against Centennial’s six-foot-eight Dominic Parolin.

Ahead 17-14 after 10 minutes, Burnaby South was put on their heels briefly as the Cents pulled within a point before Jareb Pineda knocked down a three-point shot to spark an 18-5 run en route to a 42-28 lead at halftime.

After the Rebels pushed the lead to 20 points during a polished third quarter – much done with Vujisic on the bench nursing his third foul of the night -- Centennial pushed back and began a rally that carried into the fourth quarter. Going on a 31-19 roll, the Centaurs crept within six points, on the strength of Parolin’s game-high 37 points, including four treys.

But the Burnaby South defence refused to break, protecting the lead until the final buzzer.

“I thought we needed to get a bit more secondary scoring in this game, and I thought that was the difference in this game,” remarked Centennial coach Rob Sollero. “(Burnaby South) have a lot of weapons, and they take advantage of all the different players who can score.”

Parolin, who was named the tourney’s Most Valuable Player, was a one-man wrecking crew. Burnaby South, however, was able to contain most of the other Centaurs.

“Dom’s a battler, as you saw today,” noted Bell. “He just wouldn’t go away. That’s why he won the MVP and if you look at the stats sheet I’m pretty sure it says a lot of twos and threes beside his number. He filled that stats sheet pretty well. We have to do a better job on him I’d have to say.”

Grade 11 guard Justin Sunga led the Rebels’ offence, scoring 18 points, including three treys. Vujisic finished with 17 points, while Grade 10 post Karan Aujla contributed 13 points and Emir Krupic chipped in 12. Sunga, Vujisic and Aujla were named to the Fraser North all-star team.

Bell noted that his lineup, virtually at full health after both Vujisic and Krupic missed the first month due to injury, has benefited from having a deep bench, which includes Grade 10s Jimmy Zaborniak and Aujla.

“It gives us a little younger lineup and we get to play with Karan in the centre when Sasha goes off. These kids have been playing it all year long, we’ve been injured all year long so kids have stepped up and played some bigger minutes for us and that’s kind of what they did today. There’s just good chemistry right now,” said Bell.

Having everyone ready to take to the floor couldn’t come at a better time, he added.

Burnaby South advanced to the final by topping the Terry Fox Ravens 82-53 on Friday, getting 27 points from Vujisic and a dozen by Aujla.

The Ravens secured the third and final North zone berth, beating Dr. Charles Best 89-70 in the third place game. Both Burnaby Mountain and New Westminster were eliminated on Day 2 of the tourney, with the Lions falling 81-71 to Best, while New West’s season ended in a heartbreaking 87-77 overtime tilt with Maple Ridge.

The official draw for the March 4 to 8 tournament, hosted by the Langley Events Centre, has yet to be announced.

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