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CBL GRAND FINAL: Blasting away to third straight title

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By Colin MacGillivray

AS if further proof was required, Seymour Blasters’ men’s team reminded onlookers they rule the Country Basketball League’s north-east division, defeating Benalla in Saturday night’s grand final to cap an undefeated season and a championship three-peat.

The 71-53 win against the Breakers in Albury delivered the Seymour men’s 10th banner in the past 20 years – a record of dominance that now includes back-to-back-to-back championships in 2016-18 and 2021-23.

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The stakes were clear early in the game, with both teams playing at a high defensive intensity and creating plenty of turnovers.

It was Seymour that settled first, with centre Tom O’Connor grabbing offensive rebounds and showing solid footwork and a deft post hook to score six early points.

Sam Beks and Jordan Birch did their best to answer for Benalla, with Birch hitting a pair of three-pointers to give the Breakers a narrow lead late in the first term.

Seymour dropped into a zone defence when O’Connor went to the bench, using guards Robbie Sartori, Jordan Hockley and Jack Murphy to harass Benalla point guard Eric Miraflores, the division’s leading scorer.

Seymour’s trapping defence forced Miraflores to give up the ball or take long, contested shots, blunting his offensive efficiency.

Photo: Seymour Blasters – Mens Team Facebook page

Blasters forward Tyler Best – named the division’s most valuable player this season – put immense pressure on Benalla centre Tom Downie with repeated drives to the rim, picking up two quick fouls.

While Best missed several early free throws, Downie’s foul trouble forced him to the bench.

Benalla opened up a five-point lead early in the second quarter when Kyle Termorshuizen picked off a lazy pass and scored, but Seymour seemed to reawaken when guard Abrahma Solano entered the game.

Solano made an immediate impact, driving strongly to the rim for a trio of layups.

Another turning point came when some slick Seymour ball movement found Jordan Hockley in the corner for a three-pointer.

Hockley pressured Birch on the ensuing possession, causing the Benalla player to mishandle and force a held ball.

Hockley appeared to stand over Birch after the play, with Downie remonstrating forcefully and knocking Hockley over, drawing an unsportsmanlike foul call.

It continued a dirty night for Downie, who scored a season-low six points – well below his average of 15.6.

Benalla co-captain Lachlan Kego’s airball on the half-time buzzer was emblematic of the second quarter, where the Blasters outscored the Breakers 25-6 to take a commanding 40-24 lead.

The second half saw a return to the scrappy, turnover-filled basketball of the first quarter, with neither side able to capitalise on its scoring chances.

The game finally broke open late in the third term when Seymour guard Zac Donoghue found Solano wide open at the three-point line on back-to-back possessions, with Solano nailing both shots to extend the Blasters’ lead to 20.

The final term became a procession, with Seymour draining the shot clock on many of its possessions to leave Benalla as little time as possible.

With the game well in hand, coach Craig Hockley emptied Seymour’s bench in the final minute, ensuring every Blaster got on the court.

Hockley paid tribute to his players and their enviable record of success after the win.

“For a town of our size – about 6000 people – to continue to get up and challenge for finals, play grand finals and win them, I think it’s an outstanding achievement,” he said.

“It shows the commitment to the program from our guys. We had a list of 15 at the start of the season, and Lincoln [Stewart] retired, so we were down to 14.

“Some of those 14 don’t get much court time, but they get along to training and they love the club and the culture, which is important.”

Photo: Seymour Blasters – Mens Team Facebook page

Hockley lauded O’Connor, who helped restrict Benalla big men Downie and Kego while scoring 16 crucial points of his own, as well as Solano, who scored a game-high 17 points off the bench.

O’Connor was named the grand final MVP after the game.

“Abe came on and really stepped up. He made some big baskets and gave us a buffer,” Hockley said.

“I thought him and Tom were our best on the night, and either one of them could have been the MVP.

“We had Tom and Tyler [Best], and then Harry [Stones] had to play that other big for us. They stepped up and kept [Downie and Kego] to 11 points between them. That’s a great defensive effort.”

Downie and Kego were not the only Breakers kept quiet, with Miraflores held to half of his season average of 22 points.

For Seymour, Best had 12 points, Jordan Hockley scored 11 and Stones added eight to provide scoring support to Solano and O’Connor.

Craig Hockley thanked the many Seymour supporters who made the trip to Albury.

“A big group of supporters took a bus up, and it was really great to have them in the crowd,” he said.

“It was awesome that they made a two-hour drive, and we want to thank them for their support during the season.”

  • The print edition of the North Central Review incorrectly listed Abraham Solano as the grand final MVP. The North Central Review apologises for any inconvenience.

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