Ninety-Four Feet: Varsity Blues keep playoff hopes alive in a big way

Ninety-Four Feet: Varsity Blues keep playoff hopes alive in a big way

Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)

The past weekend was filled with tears of joy and tears of sadness across the province.

With the second-to-last week of the 2018-19 regular season now in the books, it’s time to look ahead to the postseason and beyond for several programs across the province. A handful of teams played their last regular season home games this season, and that marks the end of the careers for some of the seniors across the league. Senior ceremonies are often emotional, as these players have put a ton of time and effort into their careers. While some of them will continue playing into the postseason, others will see their university careers come to an end in just over a week’s time.

Speaking of the postseason, however, the playoff picture gained some more clarity in the West Division as all six spots have now been filled. In the East Division, the Toronto Varsity Blues made things very interesting heading into the final weekend, as their perfect weekend kept their hopes alive for a spot in the opening round.

In the last week of the regular season, drama is what you want when looking at the playoff picture and this past weekend set us up for an exciting finish to say the least. Here’s what you may have missed from the past week in the OUA in the latest instalment of Ninety-Four Feet.

Toronto sweeps Laurentian, Nipissing to remain in playoff hunt

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and with their backs against the wall in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs, the Toronto Varsity Blues found their groove in a big way over the weekend.

Coming into the weekend, U of T was on the outside looking in at a playoff spot and their chances at a postseason berth looked slim to say the least. Six points behind the Laurentian Voyageurs for the sixth and final spot, Toronto needed to pick up a pair of wins over the weekend and hope that the Voyageurs stumbled in their quest for victory. It was a tall order, but the Varsity Blues showed that they were up for the challenge. And when the dust settled, the Varsity Blues still had a heartbeat in the playoff race.

Toronto picked up two wins on the road over the weekend while the Voyageurs went winless in their games against the Varsity Blues and the Ryerson Rams. Now, Toronto sits just two points behind the Voyageurs for the final playoff spot in the East Division and four points back of the York Lions for fifth.

Friday night’s contest between Toronto and Laurentian will go down as one of the best games of the 2018-19 season in the OUA. It had a little bit of everything. Both teams went back-and-forth over the course of the night and it was only fitting that the game went to double overtime before things were finally decided. After Christine Jurcau (Richmond Hill, Ont.) hit a three-pointer late in the first overtime to tie the game at 74-all, the teams then traded punches for five more minutes to decide a winner.

With Toronto up by three with just six seconds left on the clock, Laurentian guard Emily Tinnes (Newmarket, Ont.) had a good look on a three-ball from the corner, but it was off the mark and the Varsity Blues held on for the 83-80 victory.

The teams were neck-and-neck for the first half, and the game went into the break all tied up at 36-all. Toronto took a five-point lead after three quarters, only to see Laurentian bring the score back to even at the end of regulation, 62-all. In the first overtime, the Voyageurs took a 72-71 lead with 37 seconds left on a layup from Mackenzie Robinson (Collingwood, Ont.).

Then, after Keyira Parkes (Scarborough, Ont.) picked up a foul with eight seconds left, Andrea Zulich (Sudbury, Ont.) hit a pair of free throws to stake Laurentian to a 74-71 lead. On the other end, Jessica Muha (Beaconsfield, Que.) had two shots blocked but the Varsity Blues managed to grab the offensive rebounds and keep their chances alive. The ball found its way into the hands of Jurcau who proceeded to hit the aforementioned three ball before the buzzer to force a second overtime.

Fast forward to the final minute of the second extra frame and that’s where things got interesting. With 49 ticks left on the clock, Parkes hit two free throws to give Toronto an 81-79 lead. Laurentian had a chance to tie the game with free throws of their own with just 17 seconds left, but Lara Pomerleau-Fontaine (Magog, Que.) could only connect on one of two from the line. Robinson grabbed the offensive rebound, but a Laurentian turnover gave the ball back to Toronto.

With no choice but to foul, the Voyageurs sent Muha to the line for the Varsity Blues, who calmly hit both to push Toronto’s lead to 83-80. On the final possession, the ball found its way into the hands of Tinnes in the corner, who got a good shot off to tie the game at 83-all and force a third overtime, but it wasn’t mean to be. The shot was off the mark, the buzzer sounded, and the Varsity Blues celebrated their hard-earned win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Four players for Toronto posted double-digit points in the win. Nada Radonjic (Toronto, Ont.) picked up a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds to lead the way for the Blues, while Parkes added 15 points off the bench. Jurcau finished the night with 13 points, none bigger than her three-pointer in overtime to force a second.

Kayla Deschatelets (Timmins, Ont.) had 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead Laurentian, while both Zulich and Tinnes added 16 points apiece in the loss.

The next night, the Varsity Blues took to the court against the Nipissing Lakers, and while the game wasn’t nearly as eventful as Friday’s tilt, the result was still the same for the visitors. Toronto picked up their second win in a row with a 64-56 decision over the Lakers to once again provide light at the end of the tunnel.

After falling behind by two after the opening 10 minutes, Toronto took a four-point lead of their own into the half. After a back-and-forth third frame, one that saw the Varsity Blues maintain their four-point advantage, Toronto padded their lead over the final 10 minutes to pick up the eight-point victory

Parkes was once again at the centre of the attack off the bench, posting a game-high 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting in 27 minutes of floor time. Parkes was the only player to score in double-figures for Toronto on the night. Charlotte Collyer (Colleyville, Tex.) had just five points, but pulled down 12 rebounds in the win.

Forward Jamie Soffer (Kanata, Ont.) had 16 points and nine rebounds to lead the way for Nipissing in her final home game as a member of the Lakers.

When you factor in Laurentian’s loss to Ryerson on Saturday, the Varsity Blues, now at 6-15 overall, ended the weekend in as positive a position as they could have hoped for. Toronto will take on both the Queen’s Gaels and York at home to close out the 2018-19 regular season. They will still need some help to secure a playoff spot, but the Varsity Blues are right in the thick of things in the division, and depending on how things play out across the OUA on Friday night, Saturday’s game against the Lions could very well decide who makes the playoffs and who goes home.

Guelph stops Windsor’s streak at seven

Winning on the road is never an easy thing to do, even when your team is on a roll, and the Windsor Lancers found that out on the weekend against the Guelph Gryphons.

Coming into their Friday night matchup inside the Guelph Gryphons Athletic Centre, the Lancers were one of the hottest teams in the country. Riding a seven-game winning streak, the Lancers had the look of a team that could very well make a run at an OUA title. And with a playoff spot already locked up, the Lancers were looking to continue building positive momentum ahead of the postseason with a good showing against the Gryphons.

On the other side, the Gryphons were playing to keep their playoff hopes alive. They entered the weekend in the sixth and final playoff spot in the West Division, but were just two points up on the three teams below them in the standings. On their home court, Guelph was looking to pick up a pair of wins to gain some separation from those teams hot on their trail.

When all was said and done, the Gryphons put themselves in a position to secure a playoff spot with a perfect weekend. And thanks to Sunday’s loss by the Western Mustangs, the Gryphons did just that and secured a postseason berth with two games left to play in the regular season.

Friday night saw the Gryphons put an end to Windsor’s aforementioned winning streak with a 79-74 decision. After a closely-contested third quarter saw the Gryphons take a slim two-point lead into the final frame, Guelph showed a ton of resolve down the stretch to hold off the Lancers and pick up the momentum-generating win in the stretch run towards the playoffs.

Having battled injuries for most of the season to several key players, the Gryphons put together a strong effort on both ends of the court to secure the win. They out-rebounded the Lancers by a 36-34 margin and racked up 17 assists compared to just nine for Windsor. While Windsor did shoot an even 50% (31-of-62) from the floor, they went just 5-of-13 from the free throw line, and that’s where the game was won for Guelph.

Four players reached double-digits for the home side. Second-year centre Modupe Okeowo (Cambridge, Ont.) led all scorers with 21 points to go along with three rebounds, while Burke Bechard (Dover Centre, Ont.) narrowly missed another double-double, finishing with 16 points and nine boards.

Skyla Minaker (Sarnia, Ont.) stuffed the stat sheet on the night, posting 15 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and four steals.

Guelph finished off the weekend with a 93-63 rout of the Waterloo Warriors on Saturday to improve their record to 8-14 on the year. With 16 points, the Gryphons are tied for fifth-place in the West Division with the Laurier Golden Hawks heading into the final week of the season. Final seedings will be decided over the next two games for the first round of the West Division playoffs, but for those upcoming contests, Guelph fans can breathe a little bit easier knowing their team will be taking part in the 2019 postseason.

Special shout-out to the Queen’s Gaels for their 74-70 win at home over the defending national champion Carleton Ravens; their fourth win in five games. The Gaels have locked up a home playoff game in the opening round of the postseason, but a win over the Ravens will surely add an extra boost of confidence heading into the second season. Marianne Alarie (Sudbury, Ont.) led all Queen’s players with 21 points. Sophie de Goede (Victoria, B.C.) pulled down 21 rebounds and Veronika Lavergne (Ottawa, Ont.) posted 19 points and 11 rebounds in the win.

A special thank you to all the graduating seniors across the province for all that you’ve given to your respective teams, the fans, the communities across Ontario, your coaches, teammates, and the OUA over your careers. The memories that you have given fans will never be forgotten, and hopefully you remember the journey as the rest of your careers unfold. Here’s to the next chapter of your journey, wherever that may take you!