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Wallan Panthers to play for Big V basketball grand finals

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By Colin MacGillivray

TWO Wallan teams will vie for Big V basketball grand final berths after a hard-fought round of elimination finals at the weekend.

Three of the association’s four representative sides qualified for Big V finals, with the senior division two men and women and the youth league division two women all playing elimination finals on Saturday night.

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The men, playing away, emerged from a road clash against Sherbrooke with a stirring 97-85 overtime win, and will now face Gippsland United in a best-of-three semi-final series starting this weekend in Wallan.

The youth league women also found success in a fast-paced, physical game against Whittlesea in Wallan, lining up a one-game semi-final against Coburg, but the senior women lost to Gippsland United 52-74.

Men’s coach Tim Annett described the victory over the Suns as one of the best in his tenure with the Panthers, with the team trailing for all but three minutes of the game.

With intensity high at both ends of the court, Annett said his players kept their composure brilliantly.

“It shows huge character from our guys to stay in the game for as long as they did, and then things finally turned our way late in the game,” he said.

“We knew that we weren’t making many shots from outside and at some stage they would eventually fall. Late in the fourth and in overtime we had shooters make shots and we got a bit of momentum going our way.

“They jumped us at the start of overtime. We had a couple of loose possessions at both ends of the floor and they got five points on us quickly. I called a timeout to settle us down, and we spoke about what we needed to do.

“The guys really stuck together and bought into what we wanted to achieve.”

American import Arcaim Lallemand lived up to his big billing with 34 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals.

Although he took 33 shots to score his 34 points, Annett said Lallemand’s performance kept the Panthers in the game.

“[I was impressed with] the way he was continually going at the defence and trying to lead our team,” Annett said.

“From the perspective of being our import and what we brought him over here to do, the way he kept the guys in it for the first three-and-a-half quarters was a credit to him and puts the rest of the league on notice for what he can do in the finals.”

In overtime it was captain Jordan Hockley, sidelined with injury for much of the season, who took over, scoring 12 points including 10 from the free-throw line to finish with 22 for the night.

Annett said his team was confident of upsetting minor premier Gippsland United, who has lost only twice all season, in the best-of-three semi-final series starting this weekend in Wallan.

“They haven’t beaten us by much at all. The first game they beat us by [nine] points and the second game they beat us by [13] but we were missing a couple of guys and we were right in the game with three minutes to go,” he said.

“If we get this first game off them then it puts them under pressure. We’re going into it with no pressure and knowing that all of the expectation is on Gippsland.

“The women’s games at the weekend were sellouts and the stands were packed full, so we’re hoping we can get a big home crowd to help us over the line.”

Wallan guard Abby Dalmau attempts a reverse layup with close attention from Whittlesea defender Isabella Ryan in an elimination final on Saturday night.

Youth league women

The youth league women are also eyeing off the chance to play in a grand final after their hard-fought win against Whittlesea on Saturday night.

Coach Ben Whyte paid tribute to a complete team performance after the Pacers challenged the home side in the second half of the 70-62 win.

“About halfway through the third quarter the lead got back to one point and it continued to be a physical game, but we were able to stop the bleeding before they took the lead.

“We were able to hold a 12-point lead at three-quarter time and then put them away in the fourth. [The margin] was about 17 points until two minutes to go in the last quarter and then they made a couple of baskets late in junk time.

“It’s our first finals win as a youth league program and to progress to a semi-final against Coburg is really great.”

Olivia Dalmau controlled the game from the opening tip, staying patient on the offensive end and finding her team mates in good positions to finish with a 17-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple-double.

Starting centre Melissa Buckley was another big performer, also finishing with 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds of her own to help the Panthers to a 14-rebound advantage for the game.

For Whittlesea, Sofia Ruscitti scored 20 points and Amy Temos had 16, while Isabella Ryan was a standout at the defensive end with 16 rebounds, three steals and four blocks.

Whyte said his team had plenty of belief ahead of its semi-final in Coburg.

Wallan’s Jordyn Eichstadt pressures Whittlesea ballhandler Rani Taylor on Saturday night.

“We played them there in round six when they were undefeated and we beat them on their court by 28 points. We know we can get the job done there,” he said.

“In round 12 we were able to take care of them at home by [four] points. That was a lot closer but we had about a 15-point lead halfway through the last quarter and they clawed their way back into it with a couple of shots late in the game.

“It’s 100 per cent a winnable game and I think the girls will go in confident we can get the job done again at Coburg.

“Even with the men playing likely Saturday night at home, we’d like to see some of the Wallan faithful down to support the youth league girls as well.”

Senior women

While a 22-point loss brought the division two women’s season to a close on Saturday, coach Carey Papanicolaou had nothing but praise for his players.

The Panthers endured a difficult season, with player injuries and unavailability sometimes limiting the team to play without a bench.

With guards Kaitlyn Wakartschuk and Jacinta Scott unlikely to return for next season, Papanicolaou said the team would have a fresh look in 2023.

“I think the girls had a tremendous season given what we went through all year. I thought we did really well to get as far as we did,” he said.

“A couple of the girls won’t be back [for next season], but we’ll get some of our youth league girls in there and see how we go.

“I’m proud of the way we performed this year and I’m looking forward to next year. Hopefully we can go one step further.”

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