THE Stirling Senators can further emerge as a Men’s SBL championship threat in Week 19 playing the Willetton Tigers and Geraldton Buccaneers while the Buccs need to stop a losing slide and Rockingham Flames and Lakeside Lightning face must-win situations.
Every one of the 11 matches in Week 19 of the 2017 Men’s SBL season has something about it well worth looking out for with Willetton, Joondalup and Geraldton still fighting over top spot; Stirling, Perth, South West and Cockburn fighting over fourth and then Perry Lakes trying to hold off Rockingham and Lakeside in eighth.
A lot could very well be determined this weekend in the penultimate round of the season.
It all begins on Friday night with the Perth Redbacks facing the Mandurah Magic, the Perry Lakes Hawks playing the South West Slammers, the Rockingham Flames battling the Kalamunda Eastern Suns and the Stirling Senators taking on the Willetton Tigers.
Then on Saturday night, the South West Slammers host the Goldfields Giants and the Stirling Senators play host to the Geraldton Buccaneers.
The Lakeside Lightning also face the Perry Lakes Hawks, the East Perth Eagles play the Cockburn Cougars and the Willetton Tigers tackle the Joondalup City Wolves.
There are two more matches then on Sunday afternoon with the Mandurah Magic hosting the Goldfields Giants and the Cockburn Cougars facing the Geraldton Buccaneers.
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Friday night’s action shapes as a season-defining evening beginning at Belmont Oasis with the Redbacks playing host to the Magic.
Perth sent a message that it remains a genuine title threat this season bouncing back with outstanding wins against the Willetton Tigers and Joondalup City Wolves.
That was on the back of the returns of Shawn Redhage and Michael Vigor, but there was far more than those two who played well as the Redbacks rediscovered some ominous form.
Those two wins improved the Redbacks to a 14-10 record to go back to fifth spot and remain a chance still of finishing fourth if they keep winning.
They will expect to do that on Friday against the bottom placed Magic, but Mandurah is in its best patch of form of the season having beaten Perry Lakes and Geraldton recently, and only losing narrowly at home to East Perth in a high-scoring affair last Saturday night.
The Redbacks did beat the Magic by 21 points in Mandurah earlier in the season.
Speaking of season-best form, that is exactly what Perry Lakes is in at present having won its last three matches and five of the past six to consolidate sixth position heading into Friday night’s clash against the Slammers at Bendat Basketball Centre.
While the Hawks are in good form and sit in eighth spot at 12-11, any game they lose from here will keep the door open for the chasing Rockingham and Lakeside making the home clash to the Slammers all the more crucial.
South West do remain sixth at 13-10 and beat Perry Lakes by 13 points at home earlier in the season, but the Slammers will be without Tre Nichols on Friday night as he spends the week in Las Vegas for the Korean Basketball League Tryout and Draft.
But the Slammers will look for Michael Lay, Teny Puot and Brian Voelkel to pick up the slack in the absence of Nichols. It’s a big game for South West too as a loss would take a top four finish almost out of reach.
Perry Lakes coach Matt Parsons is looking to get a measure of revenge for the loss to the Slammers earlier, but it’s even more important in the context of the season.
“It’s a really tough run home but looking to that Slammers game firstly, they gave us a bit of a lesson down in Bunbury early in the year,” Parsons said.
“Nixy was up and about for it and he doesn’t need any extra motivation coaching against his old side and we have our own motivation of having to right a wrong from losing down there when we didn’t play well at all.
“I like our chances against anyone at the moment, but there’s some really classy teams in the league this year. But at the end of the day, it’s about preparation and our boys are at a point now where they fancy any challenge.”
Rockingham plays its final home game at Mike Barnett Sports Complex for the season hosting Kalamunda on Friday night.
The Flames will be without Perth Wildcats sharpshooter Dexter Kernich-Drew for the rest of the season due to a broken jaw and they have lost four of their past five matches, but they can keep their playoff hopes alive with a win on Friday.
Rockingham does sit ninth at 10-14 but two wins will keep its slim chances alive.
Kalamunda might be out of the playoff race but remain a dangerous team still looking to try and better last season’s six wins. They have already won six and shown another strong sign of improvement in 2017.
Rockingham did win the clash earlier in the season at Ray Owen Sports Centre by nine points and they were without Kernich-Drew that night.
The last game to look at on Friday night sees the fourth placed Senators host the league-leading Tigers at Warwick Stadium.
Stirling has hit its best form of the season with Cody Ellis, Rhys Vague, Ash Litterick, Drew Naymick and Corban Wroe all in strong form. That has seen the Senators go from battling for a spot in the eight to now holding fourth spot with it theirs to lose.
The Senators have now won six straight to improve to 14-9 as they prepare to take on a Tigers team who still sits on top, but a loss could put that in jeopardy.
Willetton won’t want to lose consecutive matches having lost to the Redbacks at home last Friday night.
It was a thriller earlier in the season when the two teams met at Willetton too with Stirling winning 89-85 after losing to the Tigers in the quarter finals in 2016.
Saturday night’s action gets underway at Eaton Recreation Centre with the Slammers backing up from playing Perry Lakes on Friday by hosting the struggling Giants.
The Giants have been having a tough time for a variety of reasons of late and lost their last five but an upset road win over a playoff-bound team like the Slammers would be just the boost they are after.
The Senators then back up their clash with the Tigers from Friday by hosting the Buccaneers at Warwick Stadium on Saturday night.
The Buccs enter the clash on the back of having lost their past four matches but they remain on track for a top two finish still provided they at least end up on the same number of wins as the Wolves given they hold the series split.
But they do need to return to the winner’s list on Saturday night to make that happen and Buccs veteran Aaron Ralph knows how crucial this weekend’s double-header is coming off the losses last week to the Redbacks and Wolves.
“I think all the guys are happy to be playing against teams that are going to be in the playoffs and in the mix towards the end of the year,” Ralph said.
“You don’t want to be limping into the finals against easier teams, we just have to get back on the track and get back in our groove starting this weekend with another road trip against two more good teams.”
The Lightning then have the chance to keep their season alive hosing the Hawks at Lakeside Recreation Centre on Friday night.
The only way Lakeside can still make the playoffs is by winning its last two games and Perry Lakes losing its last three.
What happens with the Hawks on Friday is out of the Lightning’s control, but if they can take care of business themselves on Saturday they will set up a fascinating final round of the season with eighth spot still potentially on the line.
East Perth might be out of the playoff picture but has enough talent, experience and pride to still make their mark on this season when the Eagles host the Cougars at Morley Sport and recreation Centre on Saturday night.
Cockburn needs to win to remain a chance to finish in the top four in defence of their championship but they will need to play well to get over the dangerous Eagles on their home floor.
The last match on Saturday night shapes as another cracking contest with the Tigers hosting the Wolves at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
The Tigers will be coming off playing the Senators on Friday night while the Wolfpack will be playing their first game of the weekend on the back of beating the Giants, Lightning, Redbacks, Cougars and Buccs in their past five games.
Another win for the Wolves on Saturday and top spot remains a chance while the Tigers will go a long way to securing the minor premiership with a win of their own in a rematch of last year’s terrific semi-final contest.
Sunday then has two games starting at midday with the Magic and Giants locking horns at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre.
Plenty then goes on the line at Wally Hagan Stadium with the Cougars hosting the Buccs in a rematch of last year semi-final series.
Cockburn will be coming playing East Perth the night before that will determine if fourth place is still a possibility. While Geraldton will be coming off its clash with Stirling on Saturday that would have either seen the Buccaneers snap a four-game losing run or lose a fifth in succession.
WEEK 19 MEN’S SBL FIXTURES
Perth Redbacks v Mandurah Magic – Belmont Oasis 8.30pm
Perry Lakes Hawks v South West Slammers – Bendat Basketball Centre 8.30pm
Rockingham Flames v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – Mike Barnett Sports Complex 8.30pm
Stirling Senators v Willetton Tigers – Warwick Stadium 8.30pm
South West Slammers v Goldfields Giants – Eaton Recreation Centre 7.30pm
Stirling Senators v Geraldton Buccaneers – Warwick Stadium 7.30pm
Lakeside Lightning v Perry Lakes Hawks – Lakeside Recreation Centre 8pm
East Perth Eagles v Cockburn Cougars – Morley Sport and Recreation Centre 8pm
Willetton Tigers v Joondalup City Wolves – Willetton Basketball Stadium 8pm
Mandurah Magic v Goldfields Giants – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 12pm
Cockburn Cougars v Geraldton Buccaneers – Wally Hagan Stadium 12pm
Photo by Belinda Pike (Croc Photography)