Cyclone breeze into SOSSA
Aakash Senthil’s final basketball game in his home gym was a victorious one.
The Grade 12 student scored 11 points and played well defensively Wednesday to lead the E.L. Crossley Cyclone to a 64-39 victory over the visiting Centennial Cougars in the Niagara Region High School Athletic Association Zone 3 AA championship game.
The 17-year-old, who is graduating high school this spring and has a goal of becoming a doctor, described his final game at Crossley as a little nostalgic.
“It has been such a great experience for me for the last three years,” the Grade 12 said. “It is also a little bit sad but we are going to move on to SOSSA (Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association). We will try to go all the way this time.”
Senthil will have plenty of home gym memories to carry with him as he moves on to the next stage of his life.
“It will be the buyout games when we finally got to play in front of a home crowd. It was always a fun time.”
Crossley head coach Brian Bleich likes what Senthil brings to the court.
“Aakash has played for me since Grade 4. He played with the Pelham Panthers all the way through. He is a tough player, a swingman and he has bought into a different role this season because he has gotten bigger.”
Senthil also has another valuable attribute.
“He is a left-hander and lefties are rare in basketball. He uses that to his advantage because he can shoot the ball and get to the basket,” Bleich said.
Senthil has enjoyed his long run under Bleich’s coaching.
“He is an amazing coach. We have an amazing relationship and I have known him forever. It is really great to play for a coach who understands you as a player and a person. He made the game easy for me.”
Senthil worked out hard in the summer to make his final year of high school basketball a memorable one.
“I started lifting to get my athleticism up. This year, I have taken on a bit of a bigger role, handling the ball more and slashing with the ball. I am using my size a little bit better.”
The visiting Cougars led 12-9 after one quarter and 17-12 early in the second quarter before the Cyclone went on a 21-6 run to lead 33-23 at the half. Crossley built its lead to 55-26 after three quarters.
“We came out kind of sluggish. It has been a long week for us and not good practices but in the second half we changed a few things, picked up the pace and we went from an eight- to 10-point lead to almost 20 right away,” Bleich said.
Centennial head coach Craig Maltais liked his team’s first half but not the second.
“We played them three times since the new year and they have all been tough games. We made some adjustments in the first half and played pretty well for a team of mostly Grade 11s. Then we just looked a little tired in the second half,” he said. “They are a really good squad so I wish them the best of luck at SOSSA and going forward. We will be back next year and we will be working hard to try and get to where they are now.”
The Cougars were in tough against a bigger and physically stronger Cyclone team, which controlled the boards.
“They seem big and all of their guys seem to have a little extra muscle,” Maltais said. “We are taking note of that and we know what we have to do in the off-season to match up.”
The Cougars will only lose two players to graduation and most of their key rotation players are in Grade 11. Maltais felt his team made good progress this season.
“It is a big jump to senior from junior and especially from a COVID season to a non-COVID season with extra games, tournaments and a heavier practice schedule. The guys know what is it about now and we will be ready for next year.”
The Cyclone now move on to play the Niagara Catholic Athletic Association champion in the SOSSA semifinals.
“We have a game plan and we know what we want to do,” Senthil said. “We are going to go out and play our hardest.”
Cyclone 64 Cougars 39
Cat’s Caboose Player of the Game: Aakash Senthil with a strong game at both ends of the floor.
For the E.L. Crossley Cyclone: Sam Jeffery 16; Senthil 11; Luca Burattini 9; Matthew Kleinsmith 8; Jackson Kalybaba 7; Connor Bleich 6; Max Johnson 3; Ethan van Niekerk 2
For the Centennial Cougars: Timi Ijaodola 12; Alex Bray 8; Joel McDede 5; Max McNeil 5; Colby Desroches 4; Matt Millar 3; Marco Reyes 2; Hayden London 1.
Up next: Crossley advances to the SOSSA AA championship Monday at Saint Francis.