JOHN DECOSTE: Underdog Axemen won the games they needed

John Decoste
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BY JOHN DECOSTE

Kings County Advertiser/Register

As the story in the provincial media March 6 suggested, the future has arrived sooner than expected for the Acadia basketball Axemen.

Most agree the Axemen have a bright future, but to say Acadia, which lost nine straight in January into February and only qualified for the playoffs on the final afternoon of the regular season, was lightly regarded heading into last weekend’s AUS Final Six would have been a fair statement.

The Axemen won the games they had to win down the stretch – one against Dalhousie and two versus Memorial – to not only make the playoffs but vault all the way to fourth place in the final standings.

Their season record, though, was a modest 7-13, with most of their wins coming at the expense of the lower teams in the conference standings.

Most felt – and probably rightly so – despite their obvious young talent, the “real Axemen” were probably closer to the team that lost 100-51 to St. F.X. than a squad with any realistic championship hopes.

Their fourth-place finish gained the Axemen the best of all first-round match-ups for them: fifth-seed UNB, which, while by no means a pushover, was a beatable opponent. Acadia dispatched the V-Reds 81-61 with relative ease in their quarterfinal match-up, with talented sophomores Owen Klassen and Anthony Sears both contributing 22 points (and Klassen 11 rebounds).

Their reward for reaching the second round was a match-up with top-ranked Cape Breton Capers, 19-1 in the regular season and clear winners of all four regular season games with Acadia. Surely Acadia would go quietly? But, the Axemen managed to hang close, and halftime found them behind by just one basket. Acadia chipped away and, helped along by some questionable shot selection by the Capers, tied the score in the final minute - and actually held a brief lead before Cape Breton forced overtime. By then, Tom Filgiano had fouled out. Early in the overtime, first Klassen and then Tyler Lutton joined him on the sidelines with five fouls. Surely, this would be it for the Axemen? Led by Sears, Justin Boutilier and unheralded freshman Lachlan Gale, Acadia then took a four-point lead in overtime, and claimed an 83-81 win on a pair of Sears free throws.

Asked in a post-game interview if he preferred to play Dalhousie or St. F.X. in the final, Axemen head coach Steve Baur probably honestly replied, “it doesn’t matter. We’re just happy to be where we are.”

Acadia had nothing left in the tank for Dalhousie in the final, and was never really in the game in a 78-47 defeat.

But make no mistake, the Axemen had already made their mark, their semifinal victory qualifying them for this weekend’s CIS Final Eight.

Don’t underestimate the importance of just being part of this year’s Final Eight field for this young and talented team. In 2007, Acadia surprised the conference by winning the AUBC title, then absorbed one of the worst defeats in the history of the CIS nationals in the first round against top-ranked Carleton. The Axemen weren’t quite ready for prime time, but they went all the way to the CIS final the following year, beating Carleton in a double-overtime, semifinal thriller withmore similarities to last Saturday than one might like to think.

Acadia may not win this weekend; they might even get blown out badly in the first round against powerful UBC. But every game they get to play will be experience for the future they simply won’t get anywhere else.

With the talent they have sitting on the bench, and the recruits Baur already has committed for next season, the future is indeed here for Acadia.

Jdecoste@kentvilledvertiser.ca

 

Organizations: UBC

Geographic location: Cape Breton

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