“It was awesome to finish second in New Zealand. Nobody expected us to even make the Nationals,” Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones marvels when reflecting on the performance of the St Patrick’s College, Wellington basketball team at Nationals last week.
Town were runners up in Wellington and only fourth in the Zone 3 tourney, but punched well above their weight in in Palmerston North.
An impressive 102-87 win first up against Waimea College was followed by a 59-92 hiding at the hands of Napier Boys’ High School. Town rolled Tauranga Boys’ College as expected 92-70 before dropping their next fixture (74-90) against South Island Regional champions, Cashmere High School. It was a setback that proved invaluable for Town.
“Cashmere was a really good game. They were a tough side and we completed the whole time. We had a couple of bad patches, but we showed we could compete with the top teams,” Tait-Jones reflects.
Town ensured they would have a shot at the playoffs by accounting for McLeans College 77-60 which established a meeting in the preliminary quarter final against Hastings Boys’ High School.
“We were pretty confident we could beat Hastings and did for the fourth time this year. We’re a run and gun team and Hastings aren’t as fit as us so if we could play our team we know we could outlast them,” Tait-Jones reveals.
Hamilton Boys’ High School convincingly conquered Wellington champions Rongotai College in pool play. Tait-Jones had to be at his very best to deny the Zone 2 champions.
“The Hamilton game was my best game of the tournament. I scored 35 points and got a triple-double. I had to mark their Junior Tall Black Maxim Stephens whose bigger than me, but he only got 19 points on me. Everybody stepped up. It was a massive win,” Tait-Jones explains.
St John’s College, Hamilton was another bigger team than Town and presented a massive challenge in the semi-final. Despite being out-rebounded 21-6 on the offensive end and trailing often, Town pulled off a 70-69 win to make the National final for the first time in a decade. Tait-Jones scored 23 pulls and reigned in 12 rebounds.
“We just had to grind it out. We knew if we could stay in touch and hit some shots we were a chance,” Tait-Jones said.
Filimone Waqabaca came up big with 17 points, the same tally he collected in the final.
“Filimone made some big shots and had a great week,” Tait-Jones acclaimed.
The final wasn’t so great for Town. Reigning champions Rosmini College were resounding victors.
“It was awesome to just make the final. We would like to have been more competitive, but we had nothing left in the tank. I was struggling with my quad and Rosmini are an exceptional team and you have to be totally on to beat them,” Tait-Jones concedes.
Tait-Jones was selected for the tournament team alongside Jeremiah Savali, the only Wellington players to make the cut.
Jeremiah was steady all-round. He’s got a big presence inside and we could count on his rebounding and scoring,” Tait-Jones praised.
A North Shore school has won eight of the last ten National championships. It’s little coincidence the New Zealand Breakers are based there.
Town’s result was the best by any Wellington school since they won the National crown in 2008.
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