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Red Devils punch their ticket to provincial tournament

Pemberton basketball team relishing the underdog role in provincial showdown
Red Devil's
The Pemberton Secondary Red Devils hope their defence will be enough to pull off some upsets at provincials in Langley starting March 9.

After being robbed of a season last year and losing most of its scheduled tournaments this year due to the province’s COVID-19 health mandates, the Pemberton Secondary Red Devils boys basketball team relied on an impromptu schedule of exhibition games to get in the necessary game action needed to compete in the Zone tournament earlier this month.

Coming into the tournament ranked fifth out of seven, the team relied on its defensive play to upset three of the four higher-ranked squads to punch its ticket to the Single-A provincial tournament, being held at the Langley Events Centre starting March 9.

After opening the tournament with a tight win over the fourth-ranked team, the Red Devils dropped a close one to the top seed, setting up a pressure-packed finish in which the team needed to win each of its remaining games.

“We went on to beat the No. 3 and the No. 2 seeds by five and two points, respectively. So all really close games, all really hard fought,” said coach Mike Richman. “We walked in the underdogs, and we fought really hard. The boys played with a ton of intensity and a ton of energy and gave it everything they had as a team and it was really exciting to watch.

“I can’t even put it into words. It’s been so exciting to watch them come together and develop. I knew that there was a lot of skill on this team, and I knew there was a lot of heart and they pulled it all together at the right time … it was so fun and so satisfying to watch it happen.”

Being an undersized team with no players over 6-1, it was a combination of determination, gritty playing style and a commitment to team defence that helped the boys overcome the challenging season this year, said point guard (and Mike’s son) Oliver Richman.

Being able to end his high school basketball career with a provincial tournament is something he and all the other Grade 12s on the team are stoked for, Oliver said.

“Having overnight trips and going to different cities and towns across B.C. for tournaments is definitely one of the more fun parts of high school basketball, so that definitely did suck a lot to lose that,” he said.

“But we’re very excited. Especially for the Grade 12s after we all missed last year due to COVID and this being our last chance to make it. Entering high school that’s what everyone wants to do, is go to provincials, so it’s been a long five years and it’s nice to finally make it.”

The Langley tournament will feature the top-16 Single-A teams in the province, and will consist of each team playing a four-game round robin to sort out the seeding before a single elimination bracket to decide the provincial champions.

And while Oliver believes the key to the Red Devils’ success is to keep an open mind, staying confident that they deserve to be there and can match up with any of the teams they might be facing, the team is still going to use its underdog status to its advantage.

“We’ve played against bigger and better teams before and we’ve come close … if we play high-level intensity defence we know that we can match the level of the other teams. But we are expecting to win games as we know we are better than some of the teams there,” he said.

“[It] happened for the Zone tournament, and the same thing will happen for the provincials. We are coming in as, most likely, one of the lower seeds. People might come into our games a little more relaxed and not expect us to come out with that level of intensity, and I think we’ll catch people off guard and punish them with our offence and defence.”

As the team prepared to head out to Langley, coach Richman wanted to send a heartfelt thank you to the community of Pemberton for showing its support and helping the team raise $10,000 in just 36 hours to cover travel and hotel costs for the tournament.

“That’s how the community came together behind this team,” he said. “I want to thank everybody for stepping up like that. That’s just incredible … the boys feel it and it’s amazing.”