The Zodiacs fight past the Sabres defence in their home tournament opener Jan. 20. (Alexis Stockford/The Winkler Times)
The senior male Zodiacs came within one game of defending their hometown title, but walked away with second after falling to the Sturgeon Heights Huskies.
The Huskies turned the tables on the Zodiacs, coming out 80-68 ahead of the same team who defeated them in the 2016 Winkler tournament final.
It was a self-described slow start for the boys, despite a 71-55 win against the Steinbach Sabres Jan. 20.
“It was an exciting thing for us because we don’t have a whole lot of home games and with all the students there, there was some pomp and circumstance with the introductions and stuff,” coach Walter Giesbrecht said. “We came out a little bit nervous I thought. We were a little bit jittery, but we ended up quite well. I think we defended quite well, so that made up for some offensive shortcomings.”
Veterans Tiago Oliveira, Isaiah Friesen and Ryan Giesbrecht turned up the pressure against the Sabres, with Oliveira netting 19 points and three assists and both Friesen and Ryan Giesbrecht coming in with 12 points each, plus three assists for Friesen.
“Typically what happens for us is Tiago Oliveira controls the game, controls the pace of the game and feeds the ball to people and Isaiah Friesen and Ryan Giesbrecht end up putting the ball in the basket quite a bit,” the Zodiacs coach said.
The trend continued into the semi-final against the Linden Christian Wings, who were fresh off a 68-59 battle with their own rivals, the Neelin Spartans.
The game that followed was “probably the best basketball that we’ve played this year,” Giesbrecht said.
Friesen led the way with 22 points and two assists, while Ryan Giesbrecht pulled in 20 points and one assist and Oliveira netted 14 and four assists before going down in the third with a toe injury.
The 63-51 victory launched the Zodiacs into the final against the Huskies and
“one of the most exciting games that’s taken place in Winkler in a long time,” Giesbrecht said.
Tenth in the provincial rankings, the Huskies pulled ahead of the Zodiacs with a persistent 10-point lead. Oliveira returned to the court, adding 16 points and three assists to the board, while Friesen earned 14 points and one assist and Giesbrecht pulled up with Oliveira with 15 points, two assists.
Still trailing, the Zodiacs made one more bid as the clock ticked down to 90 seconds.
Oliveira sunk a timely three-pointer before Bobby Matuszewski broke away with an intercepted pass, but couldn’t find the basket.
“Even though we came up on the short end there, I was thrilled with how we competed and I know, for us, if we compete like that on most nights or on all nights, we give ourselves a chance to win no matter who we play,” Giesbrecht said.