A JETLAGGED Darcee Garbin has caught fire down the stretch to help deliver the Rockingham Flames an 11-point win to open their quarter-final series with the Mandurah Magic on Friday night.
Less than 48 hours after returning from the Australian Opals training and selection camp in Phoenix, Arizona, Garbin proved the difference-maker between the local rivals at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre when it mattered most.
It was everything you would expect in a finals match up between the local rivals who both deserve to think they have what it takes to go all the way this season should they escape this first round contest.
It was Mandurah on the back of their nine-game winning run who was on top most of the night, but Rockingham produced down the stretch led by Garbin knocking down big shots and Maddie Allen coming up with big defensive plays up the other end.
That saw the Flames come away with the 76-65 victory with Game 2 to now be held at Mike Barnett Sports Complex on Saturday night. Should Mandurah win that, then Game 3 will be back at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre on Sunday.
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Despite their change of coach mid-season with Keegan Crawford taking over the helm after Craig Reynolds and the Flames parted ways, it has been a Rockingham team built for finals action, but the same can be said about Mandurah coming off reaching the past two Grand Finals.
The Magic finished the regular season on a nine-match winning streak which started following a disappointing loss in Rockingham to the Flames. But Mandurah finished the season the hottest team in the competition on that winning streak and ending up in second position on the table.
That saw them earn home court advantage against a Flames team who might have finished in seventh spot, but also entered the post-season on a four-game winning streak setting the stage for what always loomed to be a hotly contested quarter-final series.
It was a nervous opening from both teams but the Flames settled first with Christina Boag scoring the game’s first five points with the visitors then going on to lead 12-4 after six minutes when she scored another bucket.
But the Magic were doing strong work to earn extra possessions and that started to pay off with Bree Klasztorny hitting a couple of inside baskets and then Delany Junkermeir connecting from downtown.
Despite that, Rockingham still led 18-13 by quarter-time before Casey Mihovilovich worked hard and continued to attack the rim to draw scores level heading towards half-time in a low-scoring finals grind.
Taylor Brown put Mandurah up four but then Christina Boag again hit five points in the matter of 30 seconds to regain Rockingham’s narrow advantage. Carly Boag then hit a big three for Mandurah with her sister then immediately responding with a deep two for Rockingham.
But Brown’s triple and pair of free-throws in the final minute helped Mandurah to a 36-33 lead at the major break.
Carly Boag’s three to open the second half stretched Mandurah’s lead to six but it didn’t take long for Rockingham to steady starting with Darcee Garbin knocking down some jumpers. Alex Ciabattoni hit a pair of free-throws to put them back up by one before Bree Klasztorny responded with a jumper.
Klasztorny then nailed one from long-range too and Mandurah was starting to build some momentum in front of a vocal home crowd despite the close proximity of the two teams.
Two huge threes from Garbin saw Rockingham lead 53-50 by quarter-time even though it did appear Bree Klasztorny putback on an offensive rebound got off before the buzzer. But it wasn’t to count.
Rockingham still came out to score immediately to start the fourth and regained the lead with Carly Boag finished on the inside two minutes into the quarter.
But this would prove to be Garbin’s nine and she hit another triple to regain the lead for the Flames on a Chelsea Petrik assist. She nailed yet another with 5:30 remaining and then when Maddie Allen finished on the side, Rockingham was up seven.
With Emma Klasztorny, Mihovilovich and Brown then all fouling out for Mandurah in the dying minutes, Rockingham maintained its advantage to go on to score the Game 1 victory to the tune of 11 points.
Less than 48 hours after arriving home from Phoenix, Darcee Garbin delivered a standout performance for the Flames made up of 32 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots while shooting 11/22 from the field, 5/9 from deep and 5/7 from the foul line.
Flames coach Keegan Crawford couldn’t speak more highly of Garbin’s performance.
“She showed why she was invited to that Opals camp, she showed it. Conveniently she made five of our seven threes which was big and speaking to her while she was over at the camp, she felt like she was shooting the lights out,” Crawford said.
“We are excited to have her back into the program and she showed why she is one of the best players in the league. I think she got back on Wednesday but didn’t practice with us so it was a short turnaround for her but it was tough to keep her out of practice because she wanted to get straight back on the court. But it was great to have her back.”
Christina Boag added 23 points and six rebounds for Rockingham with Alex Ciabattoni producing 12 points, eight boards, five assists and two steals, and Maddie Allen six points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots.
Crawford knows that it might not have always been pretty, but ultimately all that matters in finals matches is that you come out on the right end.
“What I liked is that it was a game of two halves. We probably weren’t playing our identity of basketball in the first half and in the second half we did a way better job of staying on script, keeping our cool and our spacing was way better as was the way we moved the basketball,” Crawford said.
“I liked how we responded to getting beat up a little bit in the first half. The physical type of game probably suits Mandurah a little more because they are such an aggressive team but it’s always going to happen in a derby, especially in a finals series.
“Every single time these teams collide it’s rough, they get after it and it’s from both teams. At the end of the day it’s both of us getting after it and we were able to come out on top tonight.”
Taylor Brown had a tough night for Mandurah and didn’t get much love when she took the ball hard to the basket as she ended up with 19 points, four assists and four steals on 8/24 shooting.
Casey Mihovilovich added 15 points and four assists for the Magic, Bree Klasztorny 14 points and nine rebounds, and Carly Boag 12 points and nine boards.
Magic coach Craig Watts was obviously disappointed to lose Game 1 but does feel his team did a lot right and it’s just some minor adjustments needed ahead of Game 2.
“Obviously we’re disappointed and you want to win the first final but at the end of the day it is best of three and that’s what I’ve said to the girls,” Watts said.
“It looks like we’re here for three games now because we feel as though we were in the game for the majority of it but still hadn’t played our best basketball compared to the last four or five weeks.
“Darcee did light it up and we gave her a couple of open looks that we shouldn’t have, which is just from bad rotation, but she’s a class player and once she got her sights set in on that basket, she just kept draining them.
“All credit to her, she was probably a bit off early but finished off strong. There’s definitely positives there for us and we were in the game for a long chunk of it and it can be five minutes of lapse which costs you in a final. We will regroup this week and come back to have another crack.”
Despite the aggressive way that Taylor Brown and Casey Mihovilovich did attack the basket and with Bree and Emma Klasztorny fighting hard inside, Watts was a little curious as to how Rockingham took 13 more foul shots than the Magic too.
“I actually thought the games were allowed to flow a little bit more in the last part of the season whereas tonight I felt like the whistle was a little bit different at both ends, which might be the obvious reaction when you’re on the wrong end of it,” Watts said.
“But for us to only get to the line in the second quarter and in the other three quarters not actually get a foul shot, I find that quite astounding.
“One of the major things we were focusing on was getting inside to draw some fouls against their bigs and I think there was a bit of contact there that was let go.
“But at the end of the day the umpires blow it the way they see it and I’m OK with it. We’ll just move forward and hopefully get the right result next time.”
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