They say the best defence is a good offence.
It's a solid strategy in most sports, but the reverse is also true, particularly for the WOSSAA AA champion Glendale HS senior boys basketball team.
"Our defence is the strongest point in our game," said Glendale's Kieran Rangel after the Gemini defeated Stratford St. Mike's 82-51 Thursday night in the WOSSAA AA championships in Tillsonburg.
"When we play good defence, transition offence is there. And that's pretty much all we did. We've got Jack (Demaree), who sees the running lane really well, and obviously when you've got Jack who can dunk the ball on a fast break it really gives a team a good boost. It gets us going. Our fast break good - it was on fire today."
Glendale jumped to a 19-6 lead over Stratford St. Mike's and never looked back. Scoring for Tillsonburg Thursday night were Trent Sinden (2), Shayne Bartman (6), Kieran Rangel (11), Wolf Sym (3), Henry Vandenbroek (9), Steve Gilvesy (31), and Jack Demaree (20).
The WOSSAA hosts were slower starters in the semis Thursday morning, taking a 10-8 first quarter lead against South, but they outscored the London team 19-10 in the second quarter.
"We were a little nervous in the first game (against South)," Rangel admitted. "But after a few quarters it eased up and we went to the transition... and that was the game."
The majority of the graduating senior Gemini have a long history together. Growing up playing OBA club basketball in town, they formed the core of a dominating Oxford-Elgin high school team. Two years ago the senior boys were in contention for OFSAA, losing a WOSSAA semifinal heart-breaker and settling for bronze. Last season they were tripped in TVRA playoffs.
"We had never seen that team before (in the 2015 WOSSAA semifinals) and we kind of came out slow, and after that we just couldn't pick the momentum back up," said Rangel. "After that loss we told ourselves we've got to bounce back and we've got to make it to OFSAA next year - or this year."
If 2015 was heart-breaking, last year's early playoff loss was heart-crushing.
"Honestly last year's loss was harder to take," said Rangel, "because last year, our team, it was the best team we've ever had. It was a tough loss - semifinals in TVRA - against a team we had played many times before, always beat by 20-plus... yeah, it was a tough loss."
"It's just experience really," said Glendale's Trent Sinden, comparing this year's team to the last two senior Gemini squads.
"We're older, we've been in the same position for a couple years now," said Sinden. "Had a heart-breaking loss last year in TVRA. So that wasn't happening this year. This was our year. This is the year we were going to win it."
Sinden said they went into Thursday's semifinal against South - a team they had beaten by 20-plus earlier in the season - playing it just like any other game.
"Just go in and do our job."
Good starts have been key for the Gemini, said Sinden, recalling a 17-3 first-quarter lead against CASS in the TVRA finals, and 19-6 lead against St. Mike's.
"Then we just ride on them."
Thursday night's 82-51 win was a 'bounce back' victory, said Rangel.
"Look where we're at now - we got where we want to be. We've all been working really hard in the summer, so we've really picked up our game and improved. Henry (Vandenbroek), his jump shot's on fire. Steve (Gilvesy), he's got that three. Jack (Demaree), his vertical is just insane."
Rangel, recovering from injuries during their run to WOSSAA, took it all in stride. Initially playing with a mask to protect a broken nose, he set it aside at WOSSAA.
"Now it's good again. I did take a shot today in the face, again," he smiled. "Somebody tried to save the ball, threw it inbounds and hit me in the nose. But when you're out there playing, the adrenaline, you don't really feel it that much. But it's going to be sore afterwards."
The WOSSAA champions will head north to Sault Ste. Marie, March 6-8, for the OFSAA AA tournament.
"We had that Small School Showcase tournament a couple weeks back and we saw a lot of good OFSAA AA teams there... and we came second," said Rangel. "So we feel we have a good chance at OFSAA, but we've got to play our game - simple - and just bring it at OFSAA."
The goal in Sault is a medal, he said.
"Bronze, silver, gold, anything, that's what we'd like. Of course gold is what we all go for."
"Definitely a medal, I think," Sinden agreed. "It doesn't matter what colour - just a medal. We're going to go out and play every game hard and not be disappointed with any results. Maybe last, but other than that," he added with a laugh. "We're going to just keep playing the way we play, and whatever happens, happens. Honestly, the goal this year was make it to OFSAA."
"I think the pressure is off now," said Glendale coach Mike Demaree. "We can play free and easy, a little bit, and just see what happens. I think we should get a decent (OFSAA) seed, maybe Top 5, I think. We'll see."
The Glendale senior boys only had three losses this season, one of them against an AA team (Small School Showdown), and the other two were AAA.
"So we should get a good seed. It helps that John Paul II won bronze last year out of WOSSAA, it sort of helps your schedule. When your region continually does well up there, you tend to get the benefit of the doubt."
The OBA program, said coach Demaree, helped them get where they are today.
"It's tough to keep the program (Basketball Tillsonburg) going, it's always a smattering of teams here and there. In small towns that tends to be the problem. But it works. If you can get a group going through, it does work. It can be done."