Sentinels dominate hoops tourney

District schools will have their work cut out for them if they hope to stop the St. Francis Sentinels at the regional basketball championship next weekend if last Saturday’s tune-up tourney was any indication.
Fresh off winning a tournament in Atikokan earlier this month, the Sentinels showed they had no intention of letting down the hometown fans.
Even with the team split into two squads, the Sentinels clearly were the class of the field Saturday—with both emerging at the top after the round-robin and semi-finals to battle it out for the gold medal.
In addition to the St. Francis squads, three other teams—Crossroads (Devlin), Our Lady of the Way (Stratton), and Mine Centre School—played from 8 a.m. until after 1 p.m. to determine the four finalists that would battle it out for the medals.
From the first game, it was clear the St. Francis “Whites” were the team to beat. In their first game against the St. Francis “Blues,” the former came away with a 21-15 victory.
The only team to come close to blemishing their unbeaten record in the round-robin was Crossroads, who pushed the Whites to the limit but ultimately fell 19-18 in a game Tornadoes coach Geoff Johnston said his team should have won.
But in their game against the Blues, Crossroads wasn’t even close—coming out on the short end of a 29-9 romp. But the Tornadoes went undefeated the rest of the way to make the playoffs.
Mine Centre failed to win a game during the round-robin and so missed a shot at the medals.
In the semi-finals later Saturday, first-place St. Francis Whites bombed Our Lady of the Way 33-4 while the Blues disposed of Crossroads 30-17. That left the two host squads to square off for the gold medal while Crossroads and OLOW met in the bronze-medal game.
The Tornadoes seemed determined to make up for missing out on the gold-medal game and wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Still, OLOW kept it close at first—holding Crossroads to a 9-6 lead at halftime.
But in the second half, the Tornadoes went to town and began to score almost at will. When the smoke cleared, Crossroads emerged 33-8 victors and took home the bronze medal.
The gold-medal game was a nail-biter from start to finish. The teams matched each other basket for basket from the starting tip-off to the final buzzer.
The Whites led 9-8 at halftime, but a determined Blues squad eventually gained the upper hand and held it until the final eight seconds. That’s when a basket and two free throws allowed the Whites to steal a 20-19 victory and the gold medal.
St. Francis principal Brendan Hyatt, who also helps coach the St. Francis girls’ team, said his team is looking forward to the regional championship in Atikokan on March 6 and feels his is the team everyone else will be chasing.
“Yes, I’d have to say we’re favoured—especially the boys,” Hyatt remarked.
The boys’ won bronze at last year’s regional tournament while the St. Francis girls’ squad finished fourth.
There is one more tune-up for the girls before the regional showdown. Fresh off a gold-medal performance at the Crossroads tournament Feb. 7, the Sentinels are looking forward to a repeat performance this Saturday on home court at St. Francis, where a girls’ tourney will run starting at 8 a.m.
Many of the same teams that competed at Crossroads will be here, including the Tornadoes, whom the Sentinels had beaten on their home court for the gold medal.
Crossroads principal and coach Brian Love said his Tornadoes intend to make the most of a chance to avenge their loss at home by doing the same to the Sentinels on their turf.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Love said after a team practice Monday. He acknowledged St. Francis has long been a power in local basketball, but if anyone can take them down, it will be the Tornadoes.
However, Crossroads will be without its top scorer this weekend. Justine Chiefson broke a finger last week during a gym class and will be unavailable for the tournament.
But she may be ready in time to go to Atikokan.
“She’s [Chiefson] been attending the fracture clinic and we’re hoping she’ll be back [for the regionals],” said Love.
The good news is the Tornadoes will have everyone else in the lineup.
Lindsey Richardson has missed the last few weeks with a broken finger while team captain Rylee Nixon has been playing with a similar injury. But Love said they both are now 100 percent.
Only time will tell if 100 percent is good enough to take the surging Sentinels.