THE Warwick Senators have come a long way but until Saturday night had struggled with the Joondalup Wolves for a long time, but they opened up a big first half lead and then withstood the Wolves’ charge to continue their impressive winning form.
The Senators improved in 2018 to go from being a team seemingly happy just to be in the playoff race to one that won a series and was ready to take the next step.
But that was until they ran into the Wolfpack in the semi finals with their northern rivals continuing to have the wood over them with a big win back in Round 2 of this season at HBF Arena.
However, it was a Senators team desperate to make a statement on Saturday night at Warwick Stadium and they delivered a stunning first half to lead by as much as 22 points and then go into half-time still leading 41-24.
But the Wolves were always going to stage a comeback and with the Senators losing Caleb Davis to an ankle injury along the way, Joondalup got as close to five points down the stretch only for the Senators to do enough to steady and score the 80-71 victory.
The Wolves did start well opening up 5-2 thanks to Rob Huntington and Ridell Camidge, but the Senators soon got into their groove with their length and versatility paying dividends at both ends of the floor.
With two triples to Cody Ellis, they soon led 10-5 which became 16-7 and they were on top 22-14 by quarter-time despite Damian Matacz giving the Wolves a lift late in the quarter.
Ash Litterick then scored six quick points to start the second quarter with Warwick going on an 8-0 run to lead 30-14. When Ellis knocked down his third triple of the half, the Senators were leading 36-16 and they were still up 41-24 by half-time despite Joondalup hitting the last five points.
Earnest Ross and Huntington helped the Wolves hit the opening five points of the second half and they were always going to hit back hard after the break.
The Senators continued to answer and when Wani Swaka Lo Buluk drained a triple, they were still up 15 but Ross converted a three-point play as he attempted to put the Wolves on his back.
Ridell Camidge then tried to lift the Wolves back into the game and when he hit a three they were back within 12 before Justin King responded in kind for the Senators.
But Joondalup had picked up some momentum and a Trian Iliadis triple had the margin back to 10 with Warwick leading 61-49 at three quarter-time.
That set the stage for the Wolves to throw everything at the Senators in the fourth quarter with Warwick having lost Caleb Davis to an ankle injury and coming off their win in Rockingham the night before.
A trademark Seb Salinas three-pointer saw Joondalup just nine points down early in the final term and when Trian Iliadis converted a layup it was a seven-point ball game.
But Jay Thwaites would prove the unlikely hero down the stretch for the Senators, playing a larger role in the absence of Davis. He hit a jumper to put Warwick back up 11 and then after Wolves triples from Camidge and Ben Ironmonger, Thwaites hit a three of his own.
While the Wolves still got within five with just over a minute to go, they could never quite make it a one possession game and the Senators held on for the nine-point win.
Add that in to Warwick beating Rockingham on the road on Friday night and it was a weekend that suggests they are a genuine title threat in 2019, but so are both their opponents from this weekend.
The Senators ended up outrebounding the Wolves by 10 while shooting it at 31/69 at 44 per cent from the floor and 8/20 at 40 per cent deep. The Wolves went at 27/78 from the field at 34 per cent and 10/32 from beyond the arc at 31 per cent.
Once again it was the number of contributors the Senators had that was key to their performance with captain Cody Ellis top-scoring with 17 points, four rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots on the back of hitting 4/8 from downtown.
Justin King put up 16 points, five rebounds and four assists for Warwick while Rob Anshila produced 11 points, nine boards, three assists and two blocks, and Wani Swaka Lo Buluk 11 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Jay Thwaites stepped up well for eight points, five assists and four rebounds with Ash Litterick contributing eight points, 13 boards and two blocked shots.
Ridell Camidge top-scored for the Wolves with 15 points and four rebounds with Trian Iliadis adding 12 points, three boards, three assists and two steals, Earnest Ross 11 points and six rebounds, Rob Huntington eight points and five boards, and Damian Matacz eight points and five rebounds.
Justin King is now in his second season as an import with the Senators and knows how much that win over the Wolves means to everyone at Warwick as they try to build belief that they are among the big boys in the competition.
“That means a lot to us that win. Coming in here at Warwick, it’s a team that they have struggled with for a long time even before I got here and then last year they beat us four straight times,” King said.
“Twice in the regular season and then two times in the playoffs. So for us it was real big to hold our home court down and get a big win. It was a real gutsy win too and I feel like we matured a lot over this weekend. I’m really proud of the team for this.
“We showed a lot of heart and a lot of maturity. Defensively I think we are really taking that next step as a team and then offensively the ball is really flowing, and our chemistry from last year is really helping us because we know how each other plays just with a few new additions. It’s all starting to come together.”
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 8
ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks 102 defeated Kalamunda Eastern Suns 80
CMTG East Perth Eagles 79 lost to Texture WA Perth Redbacks 114
Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 99 lost to Bethanie Warwick Senators 110
Texture WA Perth Redbacks 124 defeated Print Sync South West Slammers 68
Willetton Tigers 68 lost to Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 96
Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants 84 defeated Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars 79
Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers 89 defeated Mandurah Magic 74
Bethanie Warwick Senators 80 defeated Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 71
Kalamunda Eastern Suns 77 lost to Lakeside Lightning 109