It may be cliché, but defence really does win championships.
© submitted photo
The Peacock Toilers SHSAA 4A boys provincial champion basketball team includes coach Vaughn Crone, back left, coach Kain Petlack, Eric Forbes, Ryan Beattie, Braeden Crone, Jacob Laxdal, Nolan Thoroughgood, Sawyer Buettner, Avery Bender, Ryder Epoch, Teigan Gottselig, head coach Bryan Adams, Spencer Barrett, front left, and Levi Paul.
On a team full of talented offensive players, Peacock Toilers head coach Bryan Adams felt it was his defence that keyed his team to a provincial basketball championship.
"Defensively all weekend we played very, very well," said Adams. "Saturday was maybe the culmination of the year for us in terms of defensive basketball. The kids really bought in."
The Toilers defence held an explosive Prince Albert St. Mary Maruaders team to nine points in the first quarter and built off that early 12-point lead for the duration. Peacock beat St. Mary 78-62 to claim the 4A boys Hoopla title Saturday in Regina.
"We played really, really well. They're a very good team. They're well-coached and very athletic," said Adams. "The kids bought in and really played hard and I'm very pleased for them to say the least."
St. Mary is program that has been built on a foundation of speed and relentless defence. Peacock matched their effort and their offence and depth was enough to build them a comfortable 18-point lead at the half.
"If you let them get out and wheel-and-deal they're very difficult," said Adams. "The key was setting the tempo going in and that started with our defence."
In the semifinal St. Mary had five different players hit a three-point shot in a 92-65 win over Weyburn.
"When three-pointers are falling, at any level, you get very nervous on the other side," said Adams. "Then you start racing around like mad and they have kids who can penetrate. Our number one objective was to play our tempo. We knew it would be a pretty long day if we let them do that."
Instead it was the Toilers that were doing damage from the outside.
"Ryder Epoch hit six threes — he finally started hitting the outside shot for us. He was tremendous throughout the game. It was without a doubt one of the best games of his high school career. It was a nice one to finish on," said Adams. "One time he broke in from the left side and he was playing so well that he drew the two big guys to him and he made a behind the back pass to (Braeden) Crone who was wide open. He was in the zone.
"When it's your kids doing those kinds of things, that's good stuff."
Epoch finished with 20 points and after some cold recent shooting days he was red hot in the final.
"They were finally falling. In the last few games they weren't on the mark. My coaches always tell me 'don't stop shooting.' I'm confident with my shot and eventually they're going to fall," said Epoch. "I wanted to have fun. I don't know what's happening next year, so it could be my last game. You never know. I went in calm and clear-minded and tried to have fun."
Epoch and the rest of the Toilers ball-handlers had to be vigilant against the aggressive Marauders defence.
"They're one of the quickest teams we play against. It's a credit to their coach. They play tight defence. We stayed calm and worked around it and managed to get a lot of opportunities to score," said Epoch who capped his career with a win in his Hoopla debut. "It happened so fast. In two days it was over. It still doesn't feel real."
While the Marauders never quit, the Toilers never ceded the momentum they grabbed at the outset.
"They made a push like we knew they would, but it never got below 14 or 15. Every time they made a push we dug in and got some stops," said Adams. "We really played well offensively too. We had five different kids in double figures and we really spread it around."
Jacob Laxdal finished with 19 for the Toilers, while Crone had 14, Spencer Barrett 11 and Sawyer Buettner 10.
"We had great contributions from everybody," added Adams. "Sawyer was outstanding all weekend. It was a really good team effort.
"The kids that come off the bench — again (Nolan) Thoroughgood and (Levi) Paul gave us a huge lift — all weekend we really had contributions from a lot of kids."
Peacock's last 4A titles came in 2007 and 2008.
In the 4A boys bronze medal game Weyburn beat Central 72-67 to win a medal in their first trip to Hoopla in 24 years.
Dax Whitehead led the Cyclones with 21 points.
In the 1A boys bronze medal game Coronach beat Three Lakes 68-59 to win a Hoopla medal for the first time since 2002. James Butler led Coronach with 23 points in the win.