The Gander Collegiate Concordes used an extensive amount of energy to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the year in high school girls' basketball, but fell short in the final against the Clarenville High School Cougars.
At the McDonald's Classic Girls' Basketball Tournament in Gander over the weekend, the Concordes played the Stephenville High School Spartans, who many believe are the top high school girls' basketball team on the island, in the tournament semifinals.
The Concordes trailed from the opening basket and into the fourth quarter, and at one point were down by as much as 20 points.
Following a lively half-time speech by head coach Cory Pinksen, the Concordes started to pick away at the lead, and in the end, stunned the Spartans with a 63-53 win.
Victoria Pinksen led the way with 24 points in the semifinal win, Stephanie Hynes contributed with 19 points, and Uju Madu added 10.
"It was during the second-half when I said to our graduating girls, ‘You're leaving high school. Make sure you leave everything on the floor,'" said coach Pinksen. "‘Don't leave believing you could have given more. If we lose, we lose; if we win, we win; but just leave everything on the floor.'"
Team captain Kristin Holland said the Grade 12 players took their coaches word to heart, and the entire team put it upon themselves to give a better effort.
The Concordes came out to start the second-half much more determined, and never let off the gas pedal until the horn sounded, and the upset was complete.
"Our coach pulled us aside for a meeting, and like he said, reminded us Grade 12 players that this was going to be our final basketball tournament at home," said Holland. "We told each other we were going to push through and that we were going to try harder. We did just that in the final two quarters."
After the emotional, dramatic win over the Spartans, the Concordes took to the floor against the Cougars in the final.
The Clarenville team played solid basketball from start to finish, but the GC girls couldn't muster another thrilling comeback, and lost the gold-medal final 67-36.
Following such an emotional semifinal win, coach Pinksen said it was hard to get the girls ready for the Cougars.
"It's hard to come back after playing a game like that, and it's hard to get the girls up for the next game," said coach Pinksen. "However, I'm quite pleased with the way we played in the final. We needed to rebound and we needed to push that much more, but we just didn't have it."
Coach Pinksen tried to motivate his team by telling them to persevere and to try and battle through fatigue to start another comeback. However, when it was clear the Cougars had the game well in hand, Pinksen turned to his bench to finish the game.
Just because the game was out of hand didn't mean Pinksen stopped coaching. He said he was happy with the way his bench played in the final, and all weekend long. Now, he said the plan is to work on conditioning, and some other finer points of the game that will take his team to the next level.
"I think we need to be more diligent with our shots and we have to learn not to rush them," said the head coach. "We need to continue to see the floor well, and if we do that, I think we'll be fine for our regional tournament, and if we can be successful there, I think we'll do fine at provincials in Stephenville."
To make matters worst for the Concordes, Morgan Smith took a hard fall in the first game of the tournament Friday evening and hurt her side. Rather then have the injury looked at, Smith decided to stay and cheer the team on from the bench.
Coach Pinksen said the team is deep enough to have another player jump in to pick up the slack, but losing a player like Smith resulted in a different looking GC team.
"It certainly changes the way you coach, and it changes the way you play," said Pinksen. "We definitely had girls come off the bench who can play, but Megan is able to play a big role for us, and we missed that when she got hurt."
The team didn't come away with the medal it wanted, but Holland said she's proud of the silver, and more importantly, how the girls rallied behind each other to stun the Spartans and make it to the championship game.
"I feel like we deserved to go as far as we did because of how well we played together all weekend," said Holland. "We played a lot better this weekend, and all of our Grade 10 players are showing excellent effort and they're really playing well, too."
The Concordes finished first in its division following a 2-0 round-robin record. The Concordes defeated the Elwood Regional High School Lakers of Deer Lake 62-45, and the Eagles 61-29.
Along with the Concordes, the Pearson Academy Astros of New-Wes-Valley also competed at the McDonald's Classic Girls' Basketball Tournament. The Astros competed in Division B against the Spartans and Cougars.
It was the first tournament of the year for the Astros, who didn't qualify for the playoffs following a 0-2 round-robin record.
The Astros opened against the Spartans, losing 50-25. All eight Astro players recorded points in the loss, with Victoria Boland leading all scorers with six points.
In its final round-robin game against the eventual champion Cougars, Samantha Hiller led all Astros' scorers with nine points in the 61-26 defeat.
The Astros concluded play against the Exploits Valley High School Eagles of Grand Falls-Windsor in a third-place versus third-place game. The Astros were led by Hiller and her 26-point performance, but lost the game to the Eagles 57-41.