Warriors scorch 'stangs
By Alex Chiang
What do you get when you have an unranked men's basketball team, with a .500 record, fresh off a four-game losing streak? All the makings for a Waterloo Warrior Cinderella story.
Two stunning upsets marked the occasion for the new Ontario West champions a 68-63 over the sixth-ranked Mustangs (12-2) in one of two Ontario West semifinals on Friday and 78-74 over the top-ranked McMaster Marauders (13-1) in the divisional championship on Saturday at Waterloo.
The Warriors (7-7) had gone into a tailspin in the final part of their regular season schedule, but recovered their winning ways just in time, snapping a four-game losing streak last Tuesday with a win over Lakehead in the divisional quarter-final.
"It was a really bumpy ride," Warrior head coach Tom Kieswetter said. "We played well, but we just forgot how to win in the second half of the season.
"We started to question ourselves, but through a lot of tough work and perseverance, we got through it all."
Kieswetter admitted having the luxury of playing all three of their playoff games at home was a decisive advantage.
"We went into the games with nothing to lose and we got some outstanding efforts from several players," Kieswetter said. "We just put things together at the right time."
Even though the Mustangs held Waterloo's regular season leading scorer Mano Watsa, who had nine points, in check, Derek Maat hurt the Mustangs with an 18-point performance making seven of 11 shots from the field. Kieswetter described it as Maat's "best game as a Warrior."
Western's Nat Graham led the Mustangs with a 19-point effort, while graduating seniors Jonathan Dingle and Brad Campbell scored 15 and 14 points respectively.
As a team, Western struggled to make their shots, converting on only 23 of 62 from the field and four of 22 from beyond the three-point line.
"They shot better than us, but I don't think they played harder than us," Mustang forward Nat Graham said. "We got good shots, but we just didn't make them."
Not spared by the team's offensive woes was Western's regular season leading scorer Micah Bourdeau, who was held to just nine points.
"It was one of those games that they were hitting a lot of their shots and we weren't," Bourdeau said. "We didn't play great, but I give them credit they stepped it up when they had to."
If it was any condolence to the Mustangs, the red-hot Warriors went on to beat the defending division champ and heavily-favoured McMaster team the following afternoon to give Waterloo its first title in 12 years.
By winning the Ontario West crown, the Warriors clinched a berth in the Canadian championship to be held March 20-23 in Halifax. Western's chances of earning one of the tournament's two wild-card spots, however, are up in the air.
"When I look at the empirical criteria, I'd say our chances are better than 50-50," Mustang head coach Craig Boydell said. "The only team we don't have an advantage over is Mac... [but] people will have to get over the obstacle of accepting two teams from the same conference."