THE Rockingham Flames built a team to be ready for the business end of the season and despite personnel changes along the way, they secured their Grand Final berth in the Women’s SBL with a come from behind Game 2 win over the Perry Lakes Hawks on Friday night.
Rockingham had dominated Game 1 against Perry Lakes at Bendat Basketball Centre last Friday night winning 95-60 but even on their home floor Game 2 was never going to be as easy with the Lady Hawks’ season on the line.
There was a terrific atmosphere at Mike Barnett Sports Complex for the last home game of the season for the Flames no matter the result, but it was the Hawks that worked their way on top attempting to force a deciding Game 3.
Perry Lakes would go on to lead by as much as 10 points as well but Rockingham wouldn’t be denied and went on to dominate the fourth quarter 20 points to six to come away with the 68-61 victory.
The win sees Rockingham advance to the Grand Final on Friday night at Bendat Basketball Centre against the Warwick Senators who also defeated the Lakeside Lightning in two games of the semi finals.
The Flames will enter the Grand Final now on an eight-game winning streak having won the last four of the regular season and now having gone through winning all four games of the playoffs.
Rockingham and Perry Lakes entered their semi-final series both in hot form with the Flames having won the last four games of the regular season and then defeating the Mandurah Magic in two games of the quarter finals.
The Lady Hawks, meanwhile, had finished the season on a six-game winning streak before dominating the Joondalup Wolves in two games of the quarter finals to enter the series with the Flames on an eight-game winning streak.
That set the stage for what looked to be an evenly matched contest but Rockingham blew Perry Lakes away in Game 1 last Friday night winning 95-60 at Bendat Basketball Centre to give themselves a chance to wrap things up on their home floor this Friday night.
Christina Boag and Darcee Garbin combined to give the Flames the game’s first six points before Jamie Cherry got the Hawks on the board. But Rockingham led 8-2 when Alex Ciabattoni scored before Nat Burton and Megan McKay warmed up for the visitors and scores were soon tied at 10-10.
It was a low-scoring first term with Rockingham leading 14-10 by quarter-time and the Hawks managed to hit the lead for the first time midway through the second term when Nikita Martin drained a three.
Martin was feeling it in ways she hasn’t really at all this season but turned back the clock to her dominant best at the Wolves by hitting two more threes heading towards half-time as Perry Lakes’ lead grew to nine.
The Lady Hawks still led 34-28 by half-time and then when Sarah Donovan made a free-throw early in the second half, Perry Lakes led by a game-high 10 points and they looked every chance of being able to force a deciding Game 3.
Rockingham had to dig deep and the fight back started with a couple of quick triples from Boag. But Morgan Ballantyne responded in kind for the Hawks and they were again up by 10 with four minutes of the third term remaining.
The Hawks were still on top 55-48 by three quarter-time and the lead was back to eight to start the fourth term when Megan McKay scored inside.
Things then tightened up, though, and while it was spread over almost three minutes, Rockingham scored the next eight points and suddenly it was a one-point ball game. Maddie Allen then put the home team on top with three minutes to go and soon stretched the lead to four.
A Ciabattoni triple was the nail in the coffin and the Flames went on to win 68-61 to advance to the Grand Final and end the season of the Lady Hawks.
Rockingham coach Keegan Crawford was delighted to get the job done on their home floor.
“We talked all week about how important protecting our home floor was to us and we needed to show respect to our organisation, and fans, to put on a show for them,” Crawford said.
“Being able to pull it out was great and being able to come from behind and show that resilience was fantastic because we knew Perry Lakes was going to come out as fired up and prepared as they did.
“We don’t want to have to be coming from behind in our second straight elimination game, but it’s good to see that the girls had the resilience that they could do it.”
Darcee Garbin delivered another big performance for Rockingham with 17 points and five rebounds while her front court partner Maddie Allen produced 16 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
Christina Boag made it quite the impressive trio with 11 points, 11 rebounds and three steals with point guard Alex Ciabattoni finishing with 11 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals.
Chelsea Petrik also had seven points and five rebounds for the Flames and Tayah Burrows four points, three assists and two rebounds.
Crawford continues to be pleased with how on any given night different players continue to stand up for the Flames.
“The biggest thing for me is that we have a really big next man up mindset. We obviously have a very diverse and a very deep team even though we might not go super deep into the bench all the time depending on who we play,” Crawford said.
“But with different teams and different line-ups we are really able to exploit who has the better match up on that night. We saw Janelle had one of her best games of the season last week and then the same thing Ariana Wheki who played a role, but in this game it was Chris Boag.
“With the changes they made, she was able to take advantage of that. We are able to play a variety of different ways and it’s really good that that girls can just adapt and play on the fly.”
Nat Burton top-scored for Perry Lakes with 16 points and six rebounds with Nikita Martin delivering 15 points and five assists.
Megan McKay added 12 points and 15 rebounds with Jamie Cherry contributing eight points and four assists, and Morgan Ballantyne five points, three steals and two assists.
WOMEN’S SBL FIXTURES – SEMI FINALS GAME 2
Class 1 Orthodontics Rockingham Flames 68 defeated Scarboro Toyota Perry Lakes Hawks 61 (Rockingham wins 2-0)
Bethanie Warwick Senators 77 defeated Lakeside Lightning 65 (Warwick wins 2-0)