Photos are courtesy of Vancouver Sports Pictures

The G.W. Graham Grizzlies were five minutes away from not even qualifying for the provincial tournament. It was at Langley Events Centre just over two weeks ago as the Grizzlies found themselves trailing by dozen points with five minutes to play in the Eastern Valley zone semi-final in a win or go home game.

“We take a time-out, they sit down, and I don’t have to say anything,” recalled Grizzlies head coach Jake Mouritzen. “(One of the players) Jude Hall says: ‘we got this.’

Following the time-out, Graham rattled off a game-closing 20-3 run (which included a pair of three-pointers from Hall) for the 66-61 victory, punching their ticket to the provincial championships.

“They believed that, and we have now run off 11 in a row,” Mouritzen said.

The most recent of those 11 consecutive victories came in dramatic fashion as the No. 3 seed Grizzlies scored a 50-49 win over the No. 2 Vernon Panthers in Friday night in the second semi-final at the BC High School 3A Boys Basketball Tournament at Langley Events Centre.

Matthias Klim hit a baseline jumper for the decisive points as Vernon failed on their two subsequent possessions, falling one point short of a return trip to the championship game. The Panthers lost by two points in the 2019 gold-medal game.

The Grizzlies draw the top-ranked Duchess Park Condors from Prince George in the title game, which tips off at 6:30 p.m. The teams played once before this season back in January at the St. Thomas More Chancellor Tournament. In that game, the Condors built an early lead on their way to the 108-88 victory.

“We were down 30 before we could even blink. The whole season after that was about getting a chance to play them again and we knew it was going to be out here if we were to get that opportunity,” Mouritzen said.

Mouritzen has been at the helm of the Grizzlies program since the school opened its doors in 2006 and this marks the fifth time, they made the provincial semi-finals but the first time they have won the game. The four previous trips came when the school competed at the 2A level and they have a pair of bronze medals at that level.

While Graham is in search of a first title, the Condors are seeking a third provincial crown and could become the first program to win at the 2A, 3A and 4A levels. They won the 2A level in 2006 and the 4A title in 1980. Members of that squad are in town at Langley Events Centre to celebrate the 40th anniversary of that first title.

It was a balanced offensive effort for the victors as Jackson Kuc and Caleb Lyons each scored 15 points. Dennis Laconsay led the Tigers with 16 points while Luke Tobias had 15.

Last season, the Condors lost their semi-final game on a late-game shot, falling 62-61 to the eventual provincial champion North Delta Huskies. Duchess Park had led by eight points in the third quarter only to see the winning shot fall with two seconds to play.

While the Condors rebounded from that defeat to capture bronze, the loss stuck with the team.

“It helped us work through the last 365 days to get here,” said coach Jordan Yu. “We had it in the back of our mind for motivation.”

The fourth-ranked Tigers would cut the lead to seven in the second quarter and 10 in the third but could get no closer. But there was no panic nor was there a comeback surrendered by the Condors.

“Some of the calls weren’t going our way, but you just have to battle through it, it’s part of the game. We just stuck to our game plan. We have been sticking to our game plan all year and it has been working out,” Yu said.

The Grizzlies led for nearly three quarters of their game but were down five late in the third quarter before a back-and-forth final quarter which featured nine lead changes over the last 10 minutes.

Clay Kurtz led Graham with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Matthias Klim had 12 points, four rebounds and six blocked shots and Zach Klim had eight points and 10 boards. The Panthers were led by Isaiah Ondrik’s 20 points and 11 rebounds and 10 points from Kevin Morgan.