Grand Final Day Roundup: Three Divisions, Three Thrillers, Three Champions

The neutrals couldn’t have asked for much better on grand final day for Waratah League, with all three women’s grand finals going down to the wire. With two games still yet to be decided in the final minutes and the other going to overtime, it was a day packed with excitement at Maitland.

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Youth League: Central Coast 63 lost to Penrith 69

Despite not securing their finals spot until the last possible moment, Penrith somehow conjured a finals series run of form that culminated in back-to-back titles for a Panthers side that managed to spring a grand final upset over Central Coast.

A cagey start from both teams saw the first points not scored until almost two minutes into the fixture, but when the points came, they came thick and fast for Penrith, who scored seven points in 63 seconds to lead 7-0 just over three minutes into the contest. The highly-fancied Central Coast side quickly trimmed the lead to 9-6 through Charlie Evans and Alessandra Gasparotto, but Penrith managed to maintain a slim lead throughout the first quarter. Meg Jefferson used her length advantage to great success, delivering Penrith a 13-10 lead after a quarter, which could have been larger if not for a late Rachel Williams basket for Central Coast.

Threes from Sarah Creanor and Binta Salawu pushed the Penrith lead back out to seven points early in the second quarter as the Central Coast offence was stifled slightly after the break. Fortunately, from a neutral perspective, the Crusaders were able to keep things close thereafter in what turned out to be a low-scoring start to the second quarter. Losalini Katia made the most of some chances around the basket, but Jefferson continued to be a significant influence on the game for Penrith as the first half progressed. Despite the best efforts of Evans and Shakera Reilly, Penrith continued to maintain a decent lead throughout the second quarter, and took a 32-25 lead into the halftime break.

The opening stages of the second half saw the teams trade baskets, but Dominika Offner’s three point shooting prowess came to the fore on the back of Binta Salawu’s outstanding game control at the point, pushing Penrith to a 42-33 lead midway through the third quarter. Evans took control of the scoring for Central Coast in the latter stages of the third quarter, scoring almost at will at times. Despite this, the play of Salawu ensured Penrith would maintain their lead, albeit at a reduced 47-42 margin with a quarter to play.

Needing to trim the margin quickly if they were to secure victory, Central Coast set about their task with aplomb, as Evans and Lucy Chapman helped the Crusaders tie the game at 55-55 midway through the fourth quarter, negating the influence of Natalia Beaumont’s outstanding work in and around the paint for Penrith. However, just as it looked as if Central Coast might kick on and secure win, Tatiana Beaumont was allowed clear room to knock down a three, and a basket from Jefferson soon after changed the complexion of the game, putting Penrith up 60-55 with just under 3 minutes remaining in a nail-biting grand final.

The scoring dried up in the face of timeouts from both teams, before Tatiana Beaumont knocked down another three to extend Penrith’s margin to 8 points and put the Crusaders in a difficult situation with just over a minute to play. Evans was finally afforded a couple of foul calls which had eluded her for the previous 39 minutes, but Penrith managed to return the favour with points of their own, and when Salawu connected on a pair of free throws to extend the margin to six with 14 seconds to play, the game was clearly in Penrith’s hands. Central Coast attempted to find an open three, but time wound down too quickly for their liking and the Panthers survived to secure a 69-63 win and a second consecutive championship.

Binta Salawu was awarded Grand Final MVP after tallying 20 points for Penrith, whilst Meg Jefferson added 12 for the Panthers. However, it was Charlie Evans who led all scorers with 27 points for Central Coast, whilst Losalini Katia tallied 10 for the Crusaders.

Division 1: Bathurst 69 defeated Coffs Harbour 67 (OT)

In a day of thrilling grand finals, the Division 1 Women’s grand final between Bathurst and Coffs Harbour was undoubtedly the most exciting, with the game almost heading into double overtime before the Goldminers secured victory in the extra five minutes.

A low-scoring first quarter saw neither team able to hit double figures until the final seconds as defence reigned supreme. Former Newcastle point guard Sophie Kleeman, looking for her second title in two years after 2016’s Championship title with the Hunters, led a slightly disappointing nine point quarter for Bathurst with four points, whilst it took threes from Jordon Woods and Felicity Cook alongside a basket from Hawaii Pacific University player Jessi Reeves to drag Coffs Harbour to a 12-9 lead after a quarter of play.

The underdog Coffs Harbour side managed to maintain their slender lead in the early stages of the second quarter, and with Emily Crampton knocking down shots here and there, quickly moved out to a 19-12 lead. Bathurst looked sure to be down by a significant margin by halftime, but with Kleeman directing traffic and the experienced Rachel Murray getting to the charity stripe now and again, the Goldminers kept themselves in touch for much of the second term. Disappointingly for Bathurst though, they allowed Coffs Harbour a late run to end the half on the back of some ill-advised offensive plays, and the Suns moved out to a 35-24 lead at halftime.

An early Jordon Woods basket to start the second half pushed Coffs Harbour out to a 13 point lead. However, whatever happened in the Bathurst locker room at halftime had an effect, because Haylee Lepaio and Matilda Flood went to work to trim the lead before Sophie Kleeman nailed a crucial three-pointer which moved the Goldminers within two points at 40-38 midway through the third term as the minor premiers’ class began to shine through. The unfancied Coffs Harbour side refused to lie down though, ensuring they maintained a lead throughout the majority of the third quarter, save for a brief period when the scores were tied, and ensured that they would take a 50-46 lead into what at that time looked to be the final period.

Four fouls from Coffs Harbour before a single point was scored in the fourth quarter changed the complexion of proceedings even if the scoreboard remained the same. Young Bathurst star Olivia Doble, aided by Lepaio, helped Bathurst on a scoring run which could have completely flipped the script if not for five consecutive points from Woods in reply which restored Coffs Harbour’s lead after they briefly lost it in the early stages of the final term. At 59-56 up following a basket from Reeves, the Suns held all the aces, but the Goldminers held the ball. Lepaio managed to get the ball through the hoop with 19 seconds to play, and when Woods split a pair at the line after being fouled to stop the clock, Bathurst had a chance. However, the Goldminers took the sensible option and Matilda Flood managed to put the ball through the bottom of the net to send the game to overtime at 60-60 as Bathurst took the high-percentage shot rather than pin their hopes on a low-percentage three.

Controversy ensued midway through overtime as, with the score at 64-62 in Bathurst’s lead, Murray and Felicity Cook had a bit of a coming together. A common foul was assessed on Cook, whilst Murray picked up the unsportsmanlike foul. Murray missed both free throws, whilst Cook nailed one of her pair, and Coffs Harbour retained possession with the score at 64-63 in the Goldminers’ favour. Laura Bamford-Cleland managed to find the basket to give Coffs Harbour a lead, but Lepaio tied the game at 65-65 by splitting a pair at the line. With neither team especially reliable at the charity stripe, anything could have happened, but Lepaio secured an and-one late in the piece to negate another Bamford-Cleland basket and give Bathurst a 68-67 lead. Coffs Harbour were unable to score, leading to another foul and free throws to Lepaio with 0.3 seconds remaining. Lepaio split the pair, but with no timeouts remaining, a heave from 85 feet was always unlikely to fall, and Bathurst secured the grand final win that their regular season campaign deserved.

Haylee Lepaio’s 20 points secured a Grand Final MVP award for the former Newberry College star,  with three more Goldminers finishing in double figures. Sophie Kleeman added 15 points, whilst Rachel Murray tallied 13 points and young starlet Matilda Flood registered 11 points. Jordon Woods top scored for Coffs Harbour with 19 points, whilst Emily Crampton tallied 10 for the Suns.

Championship: Manly 58 defeated Norths 56

The WNBL experience of Manly’s starting lineup came to the fore in the final stages as the Sea Eagles came from fourth place to secure victory in a thrilling Championship grand final more than worthy of being the final game of a highly competitive season.

Norths certainly got off to a quick start, with Kallie Hovatter sneaking in to pick off Rebecca Duke’s jump-ball win to tally the first points of the game just 5 seconds into the contest. The American guard needed almost two minutes to add to her tally, but nobody else scored any points in the meantime, as the score read Norths 5, Manly 0 after two minutes following a Hovatter three. It wasn’t long before Manly hit back through Belinda Snell and Kristen Forbes to take a 6-5 lead, as the teams then traded short runs to leave the scoreline reading 10-10 after six minutes of action. However, anything that looked as if it may transpire into an extended scoring run was quickly snuffed out by the opposition, and whilst Norths moved out to a 14-10 lead at one point, a late Erin Todd layup delivered Manly an 18-17 lead to end the first quarter.

The score remained close as the second quarter progressed through its opening stages, with a Muffi Loader three proving crucial to Norths in the early minutes. However, Belinda Snell found her groove to find her way to the basket for a lay-up before drawing a foul from Kate Seebohm on a three point shot. The Opals legend hit two of the three free throws to move Manly into a 24-21 lead, and when Rebecca Duke was fouled by Hovatter around the basket, the Sea Eagles lead was out to five. The margin drifted between three and six points for much of the remaining time of the second quarter, with the shooting of Eleni Valos providing an unexpected bounty for Norths. In the end, the lead would remain with the Sea Eagles at 34-30 as the teams headed to the locker room.

A 6-0 run for the Bears to open the third quarter moved the lead into their hands, but once again Manly hit back to tie things up through an Erin Todd drive and lay-up. Todd and Seebohm traded baskets before Valos and Hovatter popped up with baskets to move Norths back into a 44-40 lead. In the lowest scoring quarter of the match, four points would mean plenty, and that is exactly what Manly finished the quarter with as Duke and Sarah White each registered late lay-ups to tie the game at 44-44 with just the fourth quarter remaining.

Razz Muir split a pair at the line to open the final term, before Seebohm hit a three and Muir split another pair of free throws to move Norths into a 49-44 lead. Snell hit back with a lay-up soon after, but a Hovatter drive to the basket saw Norths lead 51-46 with just over six minutes remaining. The American drew a shooting foul on Snell shortly after, and suddenly the Bears were looking good value for their 53-46 lead. However, an extended scoring drought and a Sarah White three were enough to trim the lead back to a manageable 55-52 with 2:31 to play following yet another Snell lay-up for Manly.

With neither team especially clinical from the charity stripe, both teams left points at the line which meant that Snell’s jumper in the final minute moved the scoreline to 56-55 in Norths’ favour. Jaimee Kennedy collected her own rebound on the next Norths’ possession but was forced into a desperation pass which landed in Kristen Forbes’ hands. Manly engineered a possession which, combined with a Norths’ defensive breakdown in the paint, allowed Rebecca Duke a wide open lay-up to hand Manly a 57-56 lead. A Norths timeout followed, and on the ensuing play, Kallie Hovatter came off a screen brilliantly to get to the basket, but Duke came up big for the eighth time in the contest to block the shot. Norths inbounded the ball, but Snell came up with the steal and was fouled in the dying seconds. The Sydney Uni Flames star split the pair, but Norths were left with an unlikely heave as the seconds ticked down. With the Bears unable to get a shot off, Manly were left jubilant, celebrating their first women’s championship in club history with a 58-56 victory.

Belinda Snell picked up the Grand Final MVP award with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists, but Rebecca Duke’s 12 points, 15 rebounds, and massive 8 blocks were arguably just as important. Erin Todd rounded out the double-figure scorers with 10 points for the Sea Eagles. Kallie Hovatter top scored with 15 points for Norths, and also picked up 9 rebounds and an impressive six steals. Kate Seebohm tallied 15 points whilst shooting 60% from three point range, and also added 6 assists. Eleni Valos tallied 10 points and 6 rebounds, whilst Jaimee Kennedy and Tristan Black added 9 and 10 rebounds respectively.

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