THE Joondalup City Wolves are through to a third successive Men’s SBL Grand Final beating the Geraldton Buccaneers in Game 3 on Sunday to set up a salivating championship decider with the Perth Redbacks.
Having lost Game 1 at Active West Stadium to Geraldton last Saturday night, the job was ahead of the Wolfpack entering this weekend that will prove to be the final action held at Joondalup Basketball Stadium.
The Wolves managed to win Game 2 over the Buccs 87-84 on Saturday night to force the decider back at Joondalup Basketball Stadium on Sunday.
The Buccaneers made a flying start again leading 12-2 early to put the pressure right back on the home team, but the Wolves caught fire in the third quarter nailing six three-pointers on the way to the eventual 93-81 victory.
That puts the Wolfpack into a third straight Men’s SBL Grand Final to take on the Perth Redbacks at Bendat Basketball Centre on Saturday night.
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The Wolves have played in the past two Grand Finals, beating the South West Slammers in 2015 and then losing to the Cockburn Cougars last year, but to get back there again in 2017 they needed to beat a supremely talented Buccaneers team inside less than 18 hours.
That became even more of a challenge with the Buccs opening the game on fire in front of their strong and loud contingent of travelling fans that made them feel right at home.
Dwayne Benjamin, Mo Barrow, Jackson Hussey and Mat Wundenberg all scored early baskets to help Geraldton to the 12-2 advantage.
But the Wolfpack soon steadied and with Ben Ironmonger going on a run of scoring 10 points himself, the home team drew level by quarter-time when Ryan Wright scored last for the period.
It was then time for Matt Hancock to catch fire for the Buccaneers during the second quarter.
He hit two threes in less than a minute to help the Buccs open a 41-30 advantage but the Wolves turned up the defensive pressure before half-time with their season on the line to be just a point down at the break when Seb Salinas hit a triple just before the buzzer.
Salinas then continued that momentum in the third quarter with the Wolves captain drilling three more three-pointers in just over two minutes of the second half even though the Buccs did respond in kind thanks to Hancock’s third triple of the afternoon.
Jordan Wellsteed then hit the floor for the Wolves and made another three to put the home team up by six which became nine when he repeated the dose with three minutes left in the period.
Rhys Smyth hit another from long range for the Wolfpack too and despite youngster Alex Ducas responding for Geraldton, veteran Wolves big man Damian Matacz came on for four crucial points before three quarter-time to put his team up by nine.
The Wolves maintained a nine-point lead when Rob Huntington drilled yet another three with seven minutes left in the game and it soon blew out to 14 by the time Trian Iliadis scored four consecutive points.
The Buccs did keep fighting to try and comeback but the gap was proving too big and the Wolves went on to score the 12-point win to qualify for the third successive Grand Final.
Reece Maxwell came up huge for the Wolfpack with the season on the line top-scoring with 18 points, three rebounds and three steals shooting 5-of-7 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the foul line.
Captain Seb Salinas scored 16 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals nailing 4-of-6 from three-point range.
Ben Ironmonger added 14 points and seven rebounds for the Wolfpack with Jordan Wellsteed adding 11 points and four boards, Ryan Wright 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Rob Huntington nine points. Trian Iliadis also had five points, nine rebounds and five assists.
MVP favourite Dwayne Benjamin again top-scored for the Buccaneers with 21 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Mo Barrow added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Buccs, Jackson Hussey 15 points, six assists and five boards, Matt Hancock 15 points, Alex Ducas eight points and Mat Wundenberg seven points.
Wolfpack coach Ben Ettridge couldn’t be prouder of his players to have advanced to another Grand Final.
“I’m just proud of the guys and everyone involved in the team to back up and get two wins on our home court against a quality opposition with great players who are well coached,” Ettridge said.
“We’ve had to overcome challenges all through the year and the way we’ve played in the back end of the year is different to the start after Ryan came in. We’ve had to adapt and even in this series we had to adapt from Game 1 to Game 2 to Game 3.
“They kept us on our toes and we just had to keep absorbing their punches and landing them back. Late in the second quarter we had 12 stops out of 20 and they scored those eight baskets in-a-row at the start.
“Our focus all year has been that we know we can score the points and it hasn’t been easy to change the mentality of guys like Seb and Trian who are such gifted offensive players, but they were locked in defensively doing a job.
“Then Jordan Wellsteed comes in and after starting 18 games for us, he goes back to the bench and comes in today and last night and changes the game with his ability to shoot, rebound and defend. For us it was about seeing the guys in a position to have success and doing great things.”
The Men’s SBL Grand Final for 2017 will now take place Saturday night at Bendat Basketball Centre between the Perth Redbacks and Joondalup City Wolves.
MEN’S SBL GAME 2 SEMI FINAL RESULTS
Perth Redbacks 101 defeated Willetton Tigers 92 (Redbacks win 2-0)
MEN’S SBL GAME 2 SEMI FINAL RESULTS
Joondalup City Wolves 87 defeated Geraldton Buccaneers 84
MEN’S SBL GAME 3 SEMI FINAL RESULTS
Joondalup City Wolves 93 defeated Geraldton Buccaneers 81 (Wolves win 2-1)
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia