Wildcats deliver first city title for veteran coach

Jon Acob has his first Richmond senior boys championship in seven finals as McMath pulls away from Steveston-London in late going

Seven proved to be a lucky number for Jon Acob.

The veteran coach has his first-ever Richmond senior boys championship after the McMath Wildcats pulled away in the late going for a 79-64 win over the Steveston-London Sharks at a packed Hugh Boyd Secondary gym.

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Acob entered Thursday’s final 0-for-6 in city title games — losing to some of Richmond’s very best hoop mentors in Bill Disbrow (Richmond High), Chris Kennedy (McRoberts) and Paul Eberhardt (Palmer) over a near 20-year span with the Burnett and McMath programs. Steveston-London’s Mike Stoneburgh was close to joining that list until the Wildcats cranked up their defensive intensity down the stretch.

With the game tied at 62-62 and under four minutes remaining, McMath went on a 17-2 run to win its second Richmond title in three years.

Points from turnovers was far and away the key stat in one of the closest championship games in recent memory. 

The Wildcats turned their full court pressure into numerous easy baskets to defeat their biggest rival for the third time this season.

“Our defence won it for us,” said Acob. “At crunch time, they just couldn’t handle it. Our pressure was just great and it really set the tone for us. Everyone came up big for us tonight. It was a good team effort.”

Star guard and city MVP Travis Hamberger picked up his fourth foul midway through the third on a charge. He sat out the rest of the quarter but started the fourth. The bold move would pay off as he avoided his disqualifying foul and ignited the late rally to score a team-high 22 points.

“I told him we needed you to play smart. Even if you think you have a steal, don’t go for it. (Assistant coach) Jason (Boparai) deserves some credit too for switching Rio (Hutchful) to the front line for Travis when we pressed to have him in more of linebacker role where he is reading the play.”

Miguel Vargas also had a big game for the Wildcats with 19 points.

The McMath win spoiled what could have been one of the greatest plots in the history of the championships.

With his team struggling in the early going with the Wildcats pressure, Stoneburgh inserted Vincent Zeng into the line-up for his ball handling ability. The Grade 10 guard delivered much more.

Zeng played beyond his years and nearly single-handily brought the Sharks back in the second half. Three times the game was tied as Zeng matched Hamberger with 22 points.

“I don’t care what anyone says, if you were doing a player-of-the-game for the final it was Vincent,” said Stoneburgh. “He is a big game player and he showed it tonight.

“(Unfortunately) we got out of our heads (from their pressure). We actually have a great press break and that’s what I mean that we were out of our heads tonight. We should never be leaving our guy on his own (after the inbounds pass) and that’s what we did which was so frustrating. But they will learn from this. I ran up and down (the bench) telling them to remember tonight if we play them again next week (in the South Fraser 3A playoffs).”

That eight-team tournament, that also includes the Sur-Del League, will be held at Steveston-London with the quarter-final round on Tuesday. Three BC berths are up for grabs. Third place finisher MacNeill is also in the hunt while the Richmond Colts play the Delta Pacers on Monday for the final spot. 

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