The top-ranked senior boys Triple A basketball team in B.C. rolled to the Fraser Valley title at the Langley Events Centre over the weekend.
But, as expected when two of their opponents were ranked second and third, respectively, in the province, there were bumps along the way for the Walnut Grove Gators.
In the end, the Gators' depth and talent shone through in both the semifinal and final.
Both games were close before Walnut Grove pulled away in the latter stages to win.
During Saturday's championship game, the Gators and White Rock Christian Academy Warriors were tied 53-53 in the fourth quarter before the Gators took over.
Walnut Grove outscored provincially No. 3-ranked WRCA 2011 down the stretch to win 73-64.
"There were two very good basketball teams," Gators head coach George Bergen said.
"White Rock is an excellent team. Being tied at 53-all is not a surprise to me. What did we do? That's a good question. We kept pushing the ball, and I thought they got a little tired and we had a little more energy left, a few more subs, and I think the difference was probably a deeper bench, a little more depth."
This marked the Gators' second consecutive appearance in the Fraser Valley final. Last March at the LEC, they fell 75-57 to the Pitt Meadows Marauders in the championship game.
They weren't going to be denied this time around.
"We were here last year, and we certainly wanted this," Bergen said.
The Gators also took control of the latter stages of Friday's semifinal game against B.C.'s No. 2-ranked team, the Yale Lions.
Walnut Grove found its shooting range in the second half en route to an 86-68 victory.
"Yale has been No. 1 [ranked in the province] for most of the year, so Yale is an excellent basketball team," Bergen said. "I just think, one, we have a good plan, and our guys have bought into the plan."
Walnut Grove's star Grade 11 guard Jadon Cohee was named tournament MVP.
His Gators' teammates Josh Mayorga and Sam Shin received first all-star team selections.
"I thought Josh Mayorga had a great tournament," Bergen said.
"He does so many little things that maybe the statistic sheet doesn't see. But he does a lot of things: rebound, defend, a bit of an intimidating guy. it all works."
Shin was a factor in the final, scoring four three-point shots en route to a 19-point outing.
Cohee scored 21 for the Gators against the Warriors.
The Gators opened Fraser Valley regional play on Feb. 20 with a 96-45 win over the visiting Chilliwack Storm at Walnut Grove Secondary's gym.
After that, the Gators beat Delta 72-45 Feb. 22 and Lord Tweedsmuir (from Cloverdale) 87-50 Feb. 25, also inside their home gym.
Bergen said the Fraser Valley zone is historically the most competitive in B.C., "bar none."
"This year, I think it's exceptionally tough," he said.
Next up for the Gators are the B.C. championships at the LEC.
The 68th annual tournament, widely considered to be the most prestigious high school hoops competition in the province, tips off next Tuesday, March 12 and wraps up with the B.C. championship game on Saturday, March 16.
Last year, the Gators lost in the final to Port Coquitlam's Terry Fox Ravens.
Walnut Grove will begin its quest for the B.C. championship next Wednesday, March 13 at 3 p.m. against the winner of the Sir Winston Churchill/Pitt Meadows matchup on March 12.
"The big enchilada is still to come," Bergen said. "You're only as good as your last game. We have to come out, prepare hard in the next 10 days and be ready to go."
The eight Fraser Valley teams heading to the provincials, in order of seedings, are: Walnut Grove, White Rock Christian Academy, Yale, W.J. Mouat, Sardis, Enver Creek, Terry Fox, and Pitt Meadows.