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Zeniths claim second consecutive 4A zone championship

Posted on March 16, 2018 by Westwind Weekly

Garrett Simmons
Westwind Weekly News

The Magrath Zeniths senior boys basketball team has gone back to back.
Magrath claimed its second straight 4A zone championship, with a 79-63 win Saturday night over the LCI Rams.
Sam Payne struck for 18 points to lead Magrath to the title, as Mason Stock (17), Taylor Cook (15), Paycen Blackmore (14) and Austin Wocknitz (13) all chipped in to pace a balanced Zeniths attack.
A stifling defensive effort helped Magrath earn the championship, against a Rams team which earned wins of Medicine Hat and Cardston en route to the final.
“LCI is very talented and can beat you in many ways,” said Balderson.
“We tried to limit their inside play and put pressure on the shooters. We were able to control the boards, which really helped.”
A second consecutive title may have been expected of Magrath, a bit of a Cinderella story last year, but that didn’t make Saturday’s accomplishment any less impressive.
“Last year was a surprise to everyone,” said Balderson. “This year, we had a lot of pressure to repeat. I am proud at the way our guys handled the pressure and managed the ups and downs of a long season.”
Magrath began its zone title defence with a 95-50 win over Chinook last Wednesday. Stock had 25 in the win, while Wocknitz had 18, Payne added 16 and John Jones scored 10.
“We wanted to take things one game at a time,” said Balderson, about his team’s approach in the opener. “Chinook provided us with an opportunity to work on areas that needed to be worked on.”
That victory set up a Thursday-night date with Raymond. Magrath’s offence once again came to play, as the Zeniths nearly hit triple digits in a 97-75 win. Blackmore led the way with 36, as Cook hit for 25 and Payne added 17.
Jeter Heggie led Raymond with 23, as Drake Still added 17 and Brady Baines had 15.
Despite the lopsided final score, Balderson said his team focused on capitalizing on its opportunities on the offensive side of the ball, to keep paced with the Comets.
“We tried to keep up with their hot shooting – they were amazing,” said Balderson about the Raymond offence. “In the second half, our defence was a little better and we were able to pull away.”
Magrath’s path to the zone final was paved with a torrid stretch to end the regular season, when the Zeniths caught fire and earned the No. 1 seed, by virtue of a 13-1 record and a late-season win over Cardston. That meant Cardston and LCI ended up on the opposite side of the tournament draw.
“It was important, although Raymond plays us very tough and we knew they would,” said Balderson about the importance of getting the No. 1 seed. “To win the zone title there is no easy route – you have to beat good teams, and we were lucky enough to do it.”
The Zeniths now prepare for the ASAA 4A Provincials this week in Medicine Hat. Magrath, ranked third in the province, will take on 14th ranked Lindsay Thurber tonight at 8 p.m. in the East Gym at Medicine Hat High School.
“We know nothing about Thurber at the moment,” said Balderson. We will prepare for them in the next few days. If they made it to provincials, they will be a tough opponent.”
A win in the opener would move the Zeniths into a Friday game at 1 p.m., against the winner of the Bishop McNally (6) and Jasper Place (11) game.
The semifinal game on Magrath’s side of the bracket will be played Friday at 9 p.m., where a potential game against No. 2 Harry Ainlay looms large.
“If we get a chance to play them, they are deep and athletic,” said Balderson about potential foes McNally and Ainlay. “We will have to play well to have a chance.”
The championship game is Saturday at 8 p.m. It’s a game Balderson hopes will include his Zeniths, as the team has a special opportunity.
“I will tell them to have fun and enjoy the moment,” said Balderson. “For seven seniors, this will be their last games playing for the blue and gold.”
Raymond’s zone tournament run ended in the consolation final, with a 95-64 loss to Cardston, as a spot in the 4A provincial tournament was on the line. Parker Graves had 17 for Raymond, as Heggie added 11 and Still and Garrett Hasagawa added 10 each.
The Comets advanced to the consolation semifinal with a Friday-night 100-93 win over Winston Churchill.
Raymond kicked off the tournament last Wednesday with a 101-91 win over Catholic Central. Hasagawa led the way with 22, Baines added 21 and Graves had 20. Heggie chipped in with 19 and Still added 13.

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