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Wallan Panthers claw to victory in elimination final

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Jordyn Grubisic
Jordyn Grubisic
Jordyn Grubisic is a senior journalist for the North Central Review primarily covering politics at all levels and sport with a particular interest in basketball. Since 2019 she has worked for several publications across Victoria including most recently at the Alexandra Standard and Yea Chronicle. She is always keen to hear from local community members about issues they face and has an interest in crime and court reporting.

Wallan Panthers’ men’s team clawed its way to a four-point victory in the final seconds of Saturday’s Big V division two elimination final against Mildura Heat.

Starting off strong, the Heat secured a seven-point lead as Wallan tried to find its feet before captain Keenan Gorski hit five points.

Mildura maintained a comfortable lead in the first quarter heading into the break with a 24-11 lead.

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The Heat kicked off the scoring in the second quarter with a layup before Wallan’s Dominic Bruno hit two free throws, backed up with a basket from centre Tom O’Connor.

A tough period saw Wallan struggling to score with back-to-back fouls, turnovers and missed baskets.

Mildura was getting second and third offensive efforts and punishing Wallan at the foul line.

Panther Lincoln Stewart’s three-pointer triggered a scoring run with a block from O’Connor and a shot clock violation, putting the ball back in the Panthers’ hands.

Mildura maintained its lead with a seven-point run before Wallan shifted gears in the final minutes of the quarter.

A technical foul to Mildura’s bench sent Bruno to the line, making both free throws before Leigh Dean made a layup, drawing the foul and hitting the free throw for a three-point play.

Bruno had a steal before drawing an unsportsmanlike foul, heading to the line to make both with 45 seconds remaining.

Wallan went into halftime trailing 34 to 45.

A three-pointer from Bruno opened the third quarter, followed by a layup from Lallemand, which brought the game within six points, before a steal and layup from Bruno set off another scoring run.

Tyler Best hit a two-point jumper before a foul sent Bruno to the foul line, prompting a Mildura timeout, before Bruno hit both free throws.

Best drew a foul, sending him to the line where he hit both free throws to tie the game.

Mildura’s seven-point margin was brought back after a Lallemand layup and a three-pointer by Stewart, reducing it to a two-point ball game.

Making two free throws with 30 seconds remaining, Mildura took a four-point lead heading into the final quarter.

It was anybody’s game in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.

With just over two minutes remaining, a two-point jump shot from Lallemand tied the game. At  46 seconds to go Lallemand made two free throws to put Wallan in front for the first time.

Mildura called a timeout, advancing the ball but missing a three-pointer before a Wallan timeout.

Out of the timeout, Lallemand missed his shot attempts but a steal by Best with 17 seconds remaining saw him draw the foul heading to the line, where he made both free throws to give Wallan a four-point lead.

Another Heat timeout saw them miss a three-pointer, rebound, and then miss again before the buzzer went with Wallan ahead on the scoreboard 70-66.

Wallan head coach Tim Annett said it was the ‘best win of the season’.

“It was a fairly close contest in the end. It was a big win for us,” he said.

“Obviously we were down quite large a couple of times and had to fight our way back into it.

“There was no panic at halftime. In the last few minutes of the second quarter, we got some momentum and got it back to within 11 points.

“We worked out a couple of things that were working for us and managed to get over the line.”

Wallan had the two highest scorers of the game with Dominic Bruno hitting 23 points and Arcaim Lallemand backing him up with 18 but it was a strong effort all round.

“I think it was a team effort. The job we did offensively to bring it back in the second half was definitely a team effort,” Annett said.

This Saturday, Wallan head to Mill Park to face Whittlesea Pacers with the winner advancing to the grand final.

“We’ll have a big focus on worrying about ourselves first and foremost,” Annett said.

“We’ve had two close games against them this season so we’re definitely going into the contest very confident we can make it through to the final leg.”

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