THE Willetton Tigers headed to Herb Graham Recreation Centre the hottest team in the Women’s SBL up against an East Perth team winless for two years, but the Eagles found something special to end the league’s most unwanted losing streak in stunning fashion.
It appeared decidedly unlikely that Saturday night would provide the chance for East Perth’s women to snap a 43-game losing slide that stretched all the way back to the Eagles’ last SBL victory that came against the Warwick Senators back on May 27, 2017.
Almost two years later, they had amassed 43 consecutive losses including some horror shows but coach Tanya Fisher made the hard call 18 months ago to strip things back and try to develop the remarkably young group from ground zero.
Losing every game of 2018 and then the first 11 of 2019 by an average of 42.1 points meant the going has been tough, frustrations have flared along the way, players have walked away and the temptation to say it’s all too hard was there for everyone involved at different points.
Then on Saturday night, the Eagles had to play host to a remarkably hot Tigers team who had won seven straight including knocking off the previously top-of-the-table Joondalup Wolves on Friday night to improve to a 10-3 record on the season.
It had all the makings of another night of embarrassment for the Eagles, but nobody told them that. What they produced was a strong and committed four quarters of basketball, and while it might not have been pretty, when it is your first win in two years, who cares.
East Perth ended up winning the game 66-58 for what was the Eagles first win under coach Fisher and first win in one week short of two whole years. They deserved to be excited and proud to find a way to win and do it against a Willetton team who left Mirrabooka shocked.
It looked like being the great mismatch of the season. Willetton had just beaten Joondalup on Friday night to make it seven straight wins and it was a Tigers team that was firing on all cylinders.
Imports Laina Snyder and Wendi Bibbins have had a huge impact on arrival while Emma Gandini, Hayley Winter and captain Desiree Kelley are all just about in career-best form. Even six-time championship winner Zoe Harper made her return this weekend.
East Perth hadn’t just been losing either. Their smallest defeat of the 11 so far this season was in Round 1 when they went down by only 22 points to the South West Slammers.
But along the way there was a 72-point loss to the Wolves, 57-point loss to the Hawks and last Saturday night a 50-point defeat to a Lakeside team missing its coach, captain and new import.
It’s fair to say morale at the Eagles was at a make or break point. With frustrations and tensions threatening to spill over inside the camp, they needed a morale booster but even the Eagles themselves might have been excused for thinking a competitive showing was the best they could hope for.
But they got a lot more than just a competitive showing against the Tigers on Saturday night.
It wasn’t the immediate strong start East Perth was after though. The Eagles scored just seven points in the first quarter with the Tigers leading 17-7 at quarter-time.
They then tailed 22-10 when Wendi Bibbins scored early in the second period for Willetton.
But when Ella Dimanlig hit a triple heading towards half-time, they trailed by just six and when she hit another a minute later, they were only five down.
Desiree Kelley and Laina Snyder combined for five quick Tigers points to steady their lead to 10, but another three from Dimanlig and then a layup from Cameron Flynn had East Perth within seven at the major break.
There was still no signs of what was to come though. Especially when Willetton came out and scored for the first four points of the second half to again lead by 11.
But the Eagles managed to restrict the Tigers to just six points the rest of the quarter and found a way to put up 16 themselves to be just one-point behind heading into the fourth period.
And then in the last quarter it was all East Perth as they produced the sort of basketball two years in the making. They did well to hold Willetton to just 13 points and put up 22 themselves to claim the stunning 66-58 victory.
It was far from a pretty game but that should matter nought to the Eagles with what they have been through.
East Perth themselves shot just 28 per cent from the field but did make 7/17 at 41 per cent from three-point range. They did well getting to the line too even if they did just make 19/32 free-throw attempts.
But the Eagles worked harder than they have perhaps in two years to get the result. They pulled in 66 rebounds including 23 on the offensive end for eight second chance points.
They did have 22 turnovers from which the Tigers scored 16 points from but Willetton only got to the foul line nine times the entire night while only shooting 26/93 from the field at 27 per cent and 2/24 from downtown at 8 per cent.
Cameron Flynn continued to show that she is an emerging star in the league leading East Perth with 16 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists including hitting 2/3 of her three-point attempts.
Ella Dimanlig came up huge as well with a season-best 15 points including 4/5 from long-range.
Import Janee Johnson had her moments still where she went in and out of the game, but had a double-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and four steals while Bree Fisher contributed 10 points and seven boards, and Ross Aryang four points and 11 rebounds.
In a bid to bring some renewed energy to the group, coach Tanya Fisher has been looking for some fresh faces and one of those played on Saturday night. Former Redbacks guard Shannon Street was handy in 15 minutes too with six points and six rebounds.
Perhaps more remarkable than East Perth snapping its 43-game, two-year drought was the fact that captain Fiona Heart played in her first SBL victory since the 1997 season at the Redbacks. It was her first win at East Perth since 1993.
Only one of Heart’s teammates, Johnson, was alive when she last played in an SBL victory.
It was a night Willetton will look to forget quickly. Laina Snyder still produced 18 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and two steals, and Wendi Bibbins 10 points and 10 boards.
Emma Gandini added eight points and eight rebounds, Taryn Priestly seven points and four assists, Desiree Kelley six points and three steals, and Zoe Harper five points and five rebounds.
WOMEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 10
Willetton Tigers 75 defeated Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 68
Bethanie Warwick Senators 86 defeated Round 1 Fitness Cockburn Cougars 75
Print Sync South West Slammers 77 defeated Class 1 Orthodontics Rockingham Flames 76
Round 1 Fitness Cockburn Cougars 64 lost to Cachet Homes Mandurah Magic 80
Schweigen East Perth Eagles 66 defeated Willetton Tigers 58
Kalamunda Eastern Suns 60 lost to Texture WA Perth Redbacks 71