Badgers win first OUA title since 1983 behind Keltos’ MVP performance

Photo credit: Mackenzie Gerry

Photo credit: Mackenzie Gerry

For the first time in 37 years, the Brock Badgers women’s basketball team are OUA champions. The Badgers travelled to Toronto on Saturday to take on the Ryerson Rams, where they defeated the second-best team in the country 84-71 to bring home the title.

The story of the game was the historic play of Sam Keltos, whose record-setting night propelled the Badgers to the trophy. Keltos scored 42 points off 15-25 shooting, including 8-9 from deep; she made her first eight threes before finally missing one late in the fourth. She also added 12 rebounds. To no one’s surprise, she was named Finals MVP.

Keltos, who was born and raised in St. Catharines, is in her first season with the Badgers after spending the past three seasons playing in the NCAA for St. Francis-Brooklyn. Her 42 points are tied for the most ever points scored in an OUA playoff game (Jylisa Williams did it for Lakehead in 2015). She set several Badgers records, including most ever points scored in either a regular season or playoff game (passing her teammate Melissa Tatti who scored 34 earlier this year), most ever points scored in a half with 26 and most made threes in a game.

Her 26 points at halftime gave Brock a six point lead heading into the third, where she scored 11 more points to bring her total to 37 after three quarters. Melissa Tatti, who has torched several teams throughout the regular season, was being guarded closely the entire game. While all eyes were focused on Tatti, the Rams allowed Keltos to do whatever she wanted on the court. Tatti still finished with 19 points, five boards, four assists and three steals off 7-12 shooting and hit a pair of threes in the fourth to secure the win.

It has been a storybook season for the Badgers and their incredible postseason run was only fitting for a team that, frankly, was not thought of as a contender in October. Their season almost ended in disaster, as they were down by 19 in the fourth quarter of their quarterfinal matchup against Windsor before mounting an improbable comeback. The Badgers then headed out to London, where they beat the No. 1 seeded Mustangs on the road after being down by double digits at the half last Wednesday.

Safe to say it has been an eventful week, one that has also been filled with awards and recognition. In addition to the Critelli Cup — named after the legendary former head coach of the Badgers Chris Critelli — and the banner that will forever hang on the walls of the Bob, several Badgers also took home individual awards from the regular season.

In this her final season, Tatti was named OUA MVP as well as being named as a First Team All-Star after leading the league in scoring and becoming the Badgers all-time scoring leader with 1,451 career points. She is also the program’s all-time leader in assists (423), steals (303), minutes (3,423), starts (100), threes made (201), field goals made (507) and free throws made (243). With a provincial championship now under her belt, Tatti has clearly cemented herself as the greatest player in Badgers history.

Sam Keltos was named as a Second-Team All-Star, while head coach Mike Rao was named OUA Coach of the Year in just his second season. The job Rao has done in such a short time cannot be overstated; the year before he took over the program, the Badgers were the laughing stock of the OUA with a record of 6-24 in 2017-18. Brock parted ways with then-head coach Ashley MacSporran before hiring Rao on an interim basis. Rao had previously been an assistant on the men’s team under Charles Kissi.

Rao improved the team to 12-14 and made the playoffs in his first year on the job. He was rewarded with a three-year contract the following summer. Brock beat Laurier in the first round of the playoffs last year and gave McMaster a run for their money in the quarterfinals. Perhaps that was a sign of the things to come for his program, as the Marauders would go on to win both the provincial and national championship after beating a Badgers team that came within two points in the fourth quarter.

But it was clear last season that the Badgers didn’t have enough talent or size; far too often the offence would turn to ‘Tatti-bail-us-out’ while bigger opponents were able to out-rebound the undersized Badgers.

So Rao and his staff began recruiting. They were able to kill two birds with one stone when they signed Keltos, who, at 6’3, stands as one of the tallest players in the OUA. With Tatti and Keltos as the most lethal little-big combo in the league, flanked by wings Kristin Gallant and Jessica Morris, the Badgers had a legitimate two-way core to lead the way. Sofia Croce emerged as the fifth starter about halfway through the season, and averaged eight points and nine rebounds throughout the playoffs.

The story of the 2019-20 Badgers is not finished, though, as the Badgers will travel to the nation’s capital to compete for a national championship this weekend. The women’s basketball program has never won a national title and haven’t qualified for the U Sports Final 8 since 2012.

The Badgers secured the No. 2 seed in the national championship tournament and will play the No. 7 seed Calgary Dinos in their quarterfinal matchup. The other game on Brock’s side of the bracket is between the three-seed Ryerson and the sixth-seed UPEI, meaning a potential rematch would occur in the semifinals, should both Brock and Ryerson win their respective quarterfinal matchups.

On the other side of the bracket, the No. 1 seed — and the No. 1 team in the country — Saskatchewan Huskies face off against the hosting Carleton Ravens, while No. 4 Laval will take on No. 5 Alberta to round out the competition.

Fans can tune into the Badgers quarterfinal matchup against Calgary this Thursday at 3:00 p.m. on CBCSports.ca or on the CBC app

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