Motivation, superstition, or perhaps just a lucky charm.
No one knows for sure, but to the Walnut Grove Gators, a carton of orange juice has played a big factor in their season’s success.
The junior girls basketball team had the sealed carton of OJ on hand on Thursday as they posed with the championship trophy, following a thrilling 53-46 victory over the Brookswood Bobcats.
The two teams were playing at the Langley Events Centre in the Langley District championship final.
The orange juice was purchased last month when the Gators were in Cowichan for a basketball tournament, with the winner guaranteeing themselves a spot at next month’s provincial championships.
This was one of eight qualifying tournaments held this season, giving teams the opportunity to ensure their berth to the B.C.’s.
Walnut Grove won that tournament and the players have latched onto the juice.
“This is when we turned into a different team,” the players told The Times. “We haven’t lost since we got it.”
Brookswood had already claimed their spot at B.C.’s back in December and both the ’Cats and Gators are ranked in the top 10 polls.
And the teams also entered the district championship game ranked one-two in Langley with Walnut Grove at No. 1 thanks to the Gators’ 51-44 win in late January.
The ’Cats scored the first four points of the district final, prompting a quick Walnut Grove timeout, and the Gators took control for much of the game from that point on, leading 15-11 after one quarter and 30-20 at the half.
The lead was up to 11 after three quarters, before the ’Cats clawed back, getting to within three points, 45-42. But that would be as close as the game got.
“They (Brookswood) always play to the very end,” said Walnut Grove coach Grant Inkster.
“When they narrowed the gap, we didn’t panic … you bend but don’t break. That was the key, we were able to react to another team’s push.”
And his team came up with back-to-back defensive stops while also converting a three-point play and adding another bucket to extend the lead to eight.
Holly Harrison led the Gators with 21 points while Fania Taylor chipped in with 11.
“No. 12 (Harrison) did a great job of getting after loose balls and rebounds,” lamented Brookswood coach Sarah Cameron.
“Those are possessions we take away from ourselves when we allow that. That hurt us a lot. And too many turnovers and too many rebounds for (Walnut Grove).”
The Bobcats were led offensively by the duo of Mackenzie Cox (18 points) and Kelsey Lalonde (10 points).
Both teams — as well as Langley Fundamental and R.E. Mountain — advance to the Fraser Valley championships, which begin Feb. 14.
Fundamental edged Mountain 41-38 in the third-place game earlier on Thursday.
Inkster is hoping the experience his squad had endured this season will pay dividends.
“It is just a matter of getting them more experience in these types of pressure cooker situations and then see how they handle it,” he said.
As for the orange juice? It’s expiration date is not until June, well after the provincial championships set for Feb. 28 to March 3 at the LEC.