By Colin MacGillivray
SEYMOUR Blasters will have a chance at redemption after their men’s and women’s teams qualified for Country Basketball League grand finals this weekend.
It is the second year in a row the Blasters reached the north-east conference men’s and women’s grand finals, but both sides will be hoping to redeem themselves after losses last season.
The men’s team will enter its clash with Myrtleford as a hot favourite after an 86-50 win against Wodonga in the weekend’s semi-final.
The Blasters showed why they finished atop the ladder with an imperious display led by Tyler Best, 19 points, Patrick Green, 15, and Thomas O’Connor, 10.
Ominously, men’s coach Craig Hockley said the Blasters still had room for improvement.
“It was still a pretty tough game. At half time [the margin] was only 12 points, so we fixed up a few things,” he said.
“We had nine turnovers in the first half, so we focused on that in the second half and started scoring more freely.
“We have a heap of depth and all players scored, so everyone had moments and contributed at different times. There was nobody who stood out more than anyone else.”
Hockley said the team would avoid complacence in the grand final despite beating Myrtleford by 26 points earlier this season.
“You go in confident but never take things for granted. That was a fair while ago and teams improve throughout the season, so you don’t want to go in overconfident,” he said.
“We’ll do the things we’ve been doing because it’s been successful so far this year. We need to make sure we’re playing defence and pressuring their ball carriers and creating turnovers that we can score off of.
“There’s always a bit extra there in the back of the mind because we lost last season, so it’s a chance for the team to redeem itself.”
Seymour’s women will also get a shot at redemption after a thrilling semi-final win against Wallan on Saturday.
After a neck-and-neck first half the Panthers pulled away in the third quarter, but a determined effort by the Blasters saw them storm back into the game.
Young gun Maddison Ford scored a game-high 17 points to lead Seymour, while centre Leah Swain provided a physical presence on the boards.
Carley Cranston was a standout for Wallan as she has been all season, scoring 16 points and draining three three-pointers.
Seymour got its nose back in front in the final few minutes and, after getting Wallan in foul trouble, sealed the game from the free-throw line. The final score was 65-62.
Coach Bill Pearce said he could not be prouder of his team.
“It was a pretty gutsy and tough win, and it’s always pleasing to be on the right side of a three-point margin,” he said.
“Maddison Ford has been an absolute standout this season. She’s a 16-year-old girl playing in a women’s competition and she’s basically dominated this year.
“She came off injured – she rolled her ankle early in the game and I thought she was very doubtful to return to the floor, but she got strapped up and had a couple of painkillers and came back on and dominated.
“Shona Gesler shot some really timely three-point shots early in the game, which were great steadiers for us.”
Pearce said Swain would have a big role to play in the grand final against Wodonga.
“We’re facing Wodonga [in the grand final] for the second year in a row, so hopefully we might be able to exact a bit of revenge,” he said.
“I think the key to Wodonga will come down to our dominant players again. If Maddison Ford plays well, Leah Swain didn’t play for us last year against Wodonga, and I think she’ll make a big difference.
“We have a lot of teenage kids playing [and] Leah is … a senior player who is a big steadying influence when we’ve got a lot of kids on the floor who can get intimidated by physical play.
“Whenever she’s been on the floor she’s really levelled the team out, and we’ve had a lot of close games this year. Having her to steady the ship when we need it has been crucial.”
Both grand finals will be on Saturday at Benalla Indoor Recreation Centre.
The women’s grand final starts at 6pm, with the men playing at 8pm.
Seymour Basketball Association president Tony Best congratulated both teams on reaching the grand final and encouraged Seymour supporters to travel to support the team.
“It’s pretty exciting to have both teams in the grand final two years in a row. This year we’re hoping we can go one better than last year,” he said.