THERE were some shocks in the quarter finals of the Men’s SBL setting up two tantalising semi-final battles starting on Saturday night with the Joondalup Wolves against the Stirling Senators, and the Perry Lakes Hawks taking on the Rockingham Flames.
The first and third seeds at the end of the regular season were eliminated in the quarter finals as the Geraldton Buccaneers quest for a first title since 2000 and the Perth Redbacks’ attempt to go back-to-back came to an end.
The Joondalup Wolves survived to now have a crack at a fourth consecutive Grand Final appearance while the Perry Lakes Hawks try to get back there for the first time since 2011, the Stirling Senators for the first time since 1990 and the Rockingham Flames the first time ever.
Both Game 1 semi-final match ups take place this Saturday night as the Joondalup Wolves play the Stirling Senators at HBF Arena, and the Perry Lakes Hawks host the Rockingham Flames at Bendat Basketball Centre.
The Wolfpack are the team with all the SBL playoff experience left in the race for the 2018 championship having played in the past three Grand Finals and five of the last seven, including winning titles in 2011 and 2015.
They take on local rivals Stirling in the semi finals with the Senators only having ever reached one Grand Final and that was way back in 1990, which was a loss to the Redbacks.
But the two teams have no love lost between one another, have built a strong local rivalry and there’ll be no backward step taken by either side with a Grand Final berth on the line.
Coming off successive Grand Final losses to Cockburn and Perth following the 2015 championship, the Wolves have put together another tremendous 2018 campaign following the additions of Jalen Billups and Brian Sullivan.
They ended up finishing second at the end of the regular season at 21-5 before having little trouble with the Willetton Tigers in the quarter finals, winning Game 1 at HBF Arena 102-66 and then Game 2 at Willetton Basketball Stadium 109-87.
They now come into the semi finals on a five-game winning run and in some ominous form.
Stirling was in the mix for a top four spot most of the season before ending up having to battle to reach the playoffs, but they ended up settling in sixth position at 14-12.
But with a group led by NBL calibre players Cody Ellis, Corban Wroe and Caleb Davis, and imports Justin King and Robert Anshila, they took it right up to the defending champion Redbacks in the first round.
After losing a tremendous contest in Game 1 by five points, the Senators did well at home in Game 2 to beat the Redbacks 107-96 and then came from behind to complete the job winning Game 3 last Saturday night 71-69 at Belmont Oasis.
That saw the Senators advance to the semi finals making up for quarter-final exits the past two years to Willetton and Geraldton since Mike Ellis took over as coach.
The Wolves beat the Senators in both meetings during the regular season by 18 points at Warwick Stadium back in Round 4 and then by just three in the return clash at HBF Arena in Round 12.
Senators coach Mike Ellis knows that the Wolves go into the series as favourites and have set their sights on the championship, but having beaten the Redbacks sees no reason they can’t knock them off too.
“All the pressure is on them, there’s no question about it. We just have to make sure that we continue to put pressure on them as well,” Ellis said.
“We can do that by playing well but if we just roll over, they are too good a team to just let them play well and get their confidence up. It’s up to us to take it to them and they are certainly going to take it to us. We just have to stand up and be men about it, and take it to them and put the pressure back on them.”
The other semi-final series features Perry Lakes against Rockingham with both teams looking to provide a new face in the Men’s SBL Grand Final.
The Hawks might have won five championships and reached eight Grand Finals, but the last of those was in 2011 as they now attempt to end that drought by winning twice against the Flames.
While Rockingham’s women have been successful in recent years with two championships and three Grand Final appearances, the Flames are yet to reach a Grand Final in the Men’s SBL. They most recently appeared in the semi finals in 2015, losing to the Wolves in two games.
This is set to be quite the physical and intense series and who is able to hit the glass the better, win the hustle plays and take their opponents out of their game the best is likely going to be the one that prevails.
The Hawks possess seasoned SBL veterans in the form of Ben Purser, Rob Cassir and the returning Ryan Smith while they will rely on big numbers from Jacob Holmen and Lochlan Cummings to try and score more than what the Flames can keep up with.
How Perry Lakes can find a way to utilise big man Brian Carlwell offensively and have him be a difference-maker defensively could play a big part in the Hawks being able to beat a smaller Flames line-up or not.
The Flames will look to NBL veterans Greg Hire and Kevin White to set the tone while needing Curtis Washington to be switched on at both ends of the floor.
Having Ryan Godfrey knocking down his shots and playing strong defence will also be pivotal as they look to get something out of emerging pair Justin Beard and Luke Travers.
Perry Lakes responded to a five-game losing streak mid-season to end up winning 12 straight to close the regular season in fourth spot at 18-8.
The Hawks then thrashed the Lakeside Lightning 112-79 in Game 1 of the quarter finals before losing Game 2 last Saturday night and then responding to win Game 3 at Bendat Basketball Centre 92-87.
Rockingham had a regular season where they just could never gather momentum but still managed to finish eighth at 12-14. The Flames then shocked the regular season champion Geraldton winning Game 1 at home 89-76 and then Game 2 on the road last Saturday night 96-89.
The Flames won the first meeting between the two teams this year 90-87 at Bendat Basketball Centre way back in Week 4 while the Hawks won another three-point thriller 82-79 at Mike Barnett Sports Complex in Round 16.
Hawks coach Matt Parsons knows that it’s going to be quite the battle for his team but he has no doubt they are ready for what the Flames will throw at them.
“We look at the experience they’ve got with guys who have been in the big league for a while and they’ve won big games. Kevin White is just a dogged defender and is going to take people out of the game, and we all know what Greg Hire can do,” Parsons said.
“Success generally follows those two guys and they’ve got some really good up and coming kids who have just topped them off.
“They are going to be tough but we need to identify where they potentially took Geraldton out of their comfort zone over the last couple of games. They’ll be tough and it will be a physical battle.”
Flames coach Brad Samuelson is excited to have his team into the semi finals but has his team primed for battle with a Grand Final spot up for grabs.
“They are as good as any team that is left within the competition. We have nothing but the utmost respect for all players and their coach Matt Parsons, they’ve done a great job during the campaign of 2018,” Samuelson said.
“Matt did well to keep them together until all their pieces fell into place and then they got on a winning run there of 12 straight to finish the season.
“We thought they would get the first game against Lakeside, but we knew that Lakeside being a young gun team would bounce back and be very hard for them to beat and made it one-game all. When it comes down to being one-game all anything is possible in the last game and it was a battle.
“Perry Lakes were good enough to win that battle and it’s going to be on for young and old this weekend, and the first game is extremely important to both teams. Whoever gets that first game might have that slight advantage to take it home and get to the big dance.”
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – SEMI FINALS WEEK 1
GAME 1 (Best of 3)
Joondalup Wolves (2) v Stirling Senators (6) – HBF Arena 7.00pm
Perry Lakes Hawks (4) v Rockingham Flames (8) – Bendat Basketball Centre 7.00pm