The Hazelton Spartan junior boys’ basketball team finished the season on a high note by winning their final game of the season.
The Spartans beat the Smithers B team to finish 3rd and their coach was pleased with his team’s accomplishment.
“This is a good way to end the season,” Coach Clarence Jones said.
“They’ve all learned a lot and played hard all year.”
After losing to the Bulkley Valley Christian School earlier in the day the Spartans met Smithers for the chance at the bronze.
The game was low-scoring early on, 8-6 for Smithers, as both teams failed to connect due to some high-energy defence.
Smithers began to take control of the game with a 10-4 outburst.
The scoring advantage was due to several Spartans losing their opponents leaving Smithers players alone after collecting offensive rebounds.
Plus, the Spartans were at times one step behind their opponents in half-court defense, so Jones adjusted the defensive strategy and allowed his team to play zone, which worked well.
The Spartans kept battling and pulled level after being sparked by the play of Shawn Robinson and Richard Hillis, who made sure to keep the Smithers defense honest by consistently attacking the basket.
Robinson and Hillis worked well together, as Hillis drove to the basket drawing defenders and finding Robinson for a wide-open lay-up.
Hillis and Josh Wesley hit back-to-back three point baskets to pull even with Smithers at 22 a piece at half time.
After a Smithers basket, Hazelton scored twice to take the lead 26-24, after Hillis snuck around his defender for a rebound tip-in.
After a few baskets being traded by the two combatants Robinson gave the Spartans the lead at the free throw line, 33-32.
Hillis followed his team mates lead and connected on two free throws of his own to push the lead to 35-32.
Matt Bennett hit a jump shot and the Spartans took a five-point lead.
Hazelton employed a full-court press for most of the game, but it really began to take effect as the game progressed.
Jones listened to his players request to crank up the defensive intensity and it paid off.
“Our players are more active and confident when we press other teams,” Jones said.
After Smithers tied the game with two minutes remaining in the game Hazelton forced turn overs in the closing moments to take the game 47-42 with Hillis scoring the final three baskets.
Hillis earned an all-star for the tournament.
“I had fun playing,” Hillis said.
“The team played well too.”
During the day a skills competition was held and Charles Maclean came fifth among competitors, while Hillis came second in the free throw competition.
The future of the team looks bright as only two players on the team, Maclean and Robinson will move up next year.
The core of Grade 9 players have been together for several years in the Steve Nash youth basketball camps and will only improve, Jones said.