TONI Farnworth wasn’t going to be denied her first championship in Australia leading the Perry Lakes Hawks to a 59-48 Women’s SBL Grand Final victory over the Mandurah Magic at Bendat Basketball Centre on Friday night.
The Lady Hawks and Magic had been the two dominant teams in the SBL throughout the 2017 season setting the stage for a tantalising Grand Final.
Mandurah was searching for its maiden championship and started promisingly with co-captain Rachel Halleen flying under the radar and hitting three opening quarter triples.
With seven straight points to start the second quarter the Magic threatened to open a big lead but it only got to seven and remained just two at half-time.
A combination of Farnworth being unstoppable offensively for the Hawks and then defensive specialist Janique Kautsky only really playing in the fourth quarter and shutting down Magic dynamo Nici Gilday saw Perry Lakes come away with the seven-point Grand Final victory.
It is Perry Lakes’ seventh Women’s SBL championship and first since 2008 in what was their 13th Grand Final appearance. It is the Hawks’ first title since Bendat Basketball Centre was built as well.
Unfortunately for Mandurah in its fifth Grand Final appearance the Magic are still yet to win that elusive SBL championship.
Farnworth took out the Grand Final MVP award after her dominant performance, particularly in the second half where she had 18 of her 26 points. She shot 8-of-18 from the field, 3-of-7 from downtown and 7-of-8 at the foul line.
Remarkably it is the first championship she has won at any level since coming to Australia from Christchurch in 2009.
She has since played in the WNBL for the Dandenong Rangers, Bendigo Spirit, Adelaide Lightning and West Coast Waves/Perth Lynx and at state league level for the Albury Wodonga Raiders, Bendigo Braves, Willetton Tigers, Joondalup Wolves and now in her second season at Perry Lakes, she finally broke through.
Lauren Jeffers did a terrific job as point guard for the Lady Hawks with 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists while Janique Kautsky’s 10 minutes of defence in the last quarter on Nici Gilday was brilliant. She also had four points.
Nat Burton scored her only two points in the last quarter but she fought hard for 15 rebounds and four steals.
Sarah Donovan also had seven points, eight rebounds and three steals for Perry Lakes.
Perry Lakes coach Deanna Smith, in her first season in charge since retiring as a player 12 months earlier, was blown away by her team’s performance.
“Oh my goodness, wow I don’t know how to describe the feeling. I’m just really proud of the girls and it’s not a relief now, I’m just stoked. They played their butts off, they played hard, they fought and to come out with the win was fantastic,” Smith said.
“Credit to Mandurah, they are a solid team and we’ve been really big on defence all season and that was our focus tonight. That was a big factor in getting us over the line.”
Despite being shut down in the last quarter, Nici Gilday top-scored for the Magic with 20 points and five rebounds.
Magic co-captain Rachel Halleen had 10 points on the back of those three first quarter triples while Carly Boag finished with seven points, 12 rebounds and four steals despite not scoring until there was a minute left in the third period.
One of the SBL’s all-time greats Casey Mihovilovich had seven points and three assists but unfortunately has now played in all five of Mandurah’s losing Grand Finals in the club’s history.
The first score of the Grand Final came to Perry Lakes guard Lauren Jeffers but each time Magic captain Rachel Halleen a three-pointer in the first term the Lady Hawks went back in front. That happened three times and the Magic led 16-15 by quarter-time.
Kasey Miegel then hit two free-throws to start the second quarter before Gilday went on an inspired run with three jumpers in three minutes to give the Magic their game-high lead of seven points.
But it was Sarah Donovan who gave the Perry Lakes a spark with six points in the last three minutes to cut Mandurah’s lead to two points by the main break.
Remarkably star WNBL bigs Nat Burton and Carly Boag both went into half-time scoreless for their respective sides.
Gilday stretched Mandurah’s lead back to four to start the third quarter but then Perry Lakes went on its best run of the game so far with nine straight points punctuated by a triple from Toni Farnworth.
When Farnworth hit another three the Hawks’ lead grew to six but Mandurah did stead before three quarter-time with the last six points with that run started with a triple from Boag that was her first points of the game.
Boag then put the Magic back in front to start the fourth term but then Nat Burton got her first and only points of the game level things up. A basket from Farnworth and free-throws from Janique Kautsky then saw the Hawks go up by four.
Then after a basket for Mandurah from Boag, it was all Farnworth as she scored the game’s next six points to put the result beyond doubt with the Lady Hawks up by eight with a minute to go, and going on to win by 11.
The Men’s SBL Grand Final will now take place on Saturday night between the Joondalup City Wolves and Perth Redbacks.
WOMEN’S SBL GRAND FINAL 2017
Perry Lakes Hawks 59 (Farnworth 26, Jeffers 16, Donovan 7)
Mandurah Magic 48 (Gilday 20, Halleen 10, Mihovilovich 7, Boag 7)
Grand Final MVP – Toni Farnworth (Perry Lakes Hawks)
Photo by Sebpix Photography