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Photos: Smart offense sends Riverside Rapids to AAAA girls' basketball final

The Rapids are going for gold after avenging their Fraser North finals' loss to Burnaby Central.

Riverside will get another shot at bringing a blue banner home.

The Port Coquitlam school also redeemed its Fraser North regional finals' loss to Burnaby Central by beating the #2 Wildcats 58-46 Friday night (March 3) in its semifinal match at the 2023 BC AAAA girls' basketball provincials.

The #3 Rapids will play for the gold medal for a second consecutive year, and will look to flip the script after losing to crosstown-rival Terry Fox in 2022.

"It feels so good," said centre Natalie Curley to the Tri-City News after the victory, noting her teammates' performance was a step up compared to the district championship.

"We want redemption again in the [provincials] final. We had way more energy; we came out like we wanted to win. Everybody contributed, our bench was crazy; it was such a team win, which feels so good."

Head coach Paul Langford credited Riverside's victory to smart offensive execution when the competition was tough at the start.

"It's awesome. It's hard to do. It's hard work," he told the Tri-City News of reaching the championship game in back-to-back seasons.

"[Burnaby] Central's a great team. I really have tons of respect for them. They're super well coached and their kids can really shoot the ball. But, our kids executed pretty well, even though I yelled at them like a lunatic."

Grade 11 guard Avery Sussex bucketed a game-high 30 points for the Rapids and was named player of the game.

She helped Riverside get on the right foot from the very start, scoring the opening points and maintaining a strong presence on offense. She was ultimately named player of the game.

Fellow junior Olivia Wheatley followed suit with tough plays in the key to keep the contest close.

However, Burnaby Central countered with precise shooting from the three-point line to maintain a short-distance lead, including the 16-14 decision after the first quarter.

The Wildcats' zone defense caused some problems in the second stanza, but Riverside was able to play smart offense and keep their opponents within reach.

Sussex powered through the D-line to give the PoCo school the 31-29 advantage through 20 minutes.

Curley, who put up 12 points herself in the semifinal, said that immediately became the team's strategy when they saw Burnaby Central beginning to struggle around the arc in the third quarter.

"She's getting it done. So, give her the ball," the Simon Fraser University commit explained, adding the mindset for the gold-medal game is to leave it all out on the court and come together as one.

"We just want to win. Like, that's all we want to do. It doesn't matter who plays the best or anything. We just want to win as a team."

Riverside went on a 12-point run to end the third quarter with a commanding 47-35 lead, and never let Burnaby Central get to within double-digit points before the final buzzer.

Langford believes adjustments will have to be made in prepping for a high-octane offense in #1 Walnut Grove, who defeated #4 Yale (Abbotsford) 68-55 in the first semi.

Led by guard Kiera Pemberton, who put up 40 points in the win, Langford said he may have spread out the talent based on what he saw from the Rapids in their tilt with the Wildcats.

"We have too many offenses, because I'm a goof," he said.

"But Jeremy [Neufeld, assistant coach] said we should run swing and we ran swing, and it was excellent. It was really good. We put more pressure on their shots, but our kids played pretty well."

"If you have the energy that we had, and if we play like we know we can play, it's completely achievable," added a confident Curley about her team's chances.

Riverside will tip-off for the title 8 p.m. tomorrow (March 4) at the Langley Events Centre against the Gators.