COMING from behind on the road in an elimination game is the biggest challenge but it’s what the Geraldton Buccaneers accomplished Sunday at Lakeside Recreation Centre with a host of big-time performance as they beat the Lakeside Lighting 96-86.
The stage was all set for quite the contest on Sunday afternoon at Lakeside Recreation Centre after Geraldton had won Game 1 back on their home floor last Saturday night and then this Saturday night, the Lightning won Game 2 at home 96-89.
Both teams backed up on Sunday afternoon with a Grand Final berth on the line on Saturday night against the Joondalup Wolves and it was a packed Lakeside Recreation Centre that greeted them with the Lightning fans out in droves and plenty of Buccs fans having travelled too.
The Lightning were rocked with having lost 227-game point guard Kyle Armour to a knee injury the night before and he was on-hand to support the team on crutches, but it was still Lakeside who started strongly and would lead most of the way.
Lakeside took control late in the first quarter and they were up 30-15 by quarter-time with the Lightning leading by as much as 17 points through the afternoon.
Even though the Buccs were back within four by half-time, the Lightning again got back on top in the second half with the advantage back to double-figures but the Buccaneers refused to lie down and produced a brilliant fourth quarter.
With Liam Hunt doing a power of work inside against Jarrad Prue and Michael Vigor, Colter Lasher proving a bull and showing why his coach ranks him as the league’s MVP, Alex Ducas showing why he has a potential NBA future and then Aaron Ralph hitting a trademark three, the Buccs came through.
They scored the game’s last seven points and finished on a 12-2, and 18-5, run to go from being three points down with five minutes to go to end up winning 96-86 and advance to their first Grand Final since 2014 as they try to win a first championship since 2000.
SEMI FINALS GAME 2 SPOTLIGHT | WOLFPACK PROVE TOO STRONG FOR HAWKS
SEMI FINALS WEEK 2 MEN’S SBL PREVIEW
SEMI FINALS WEEK 1 MEN’S SBL WRAP
SEMI FINALS GAME 1 SPOTLIGHT | WOLFPACK HOLD HOME COURT AGAINST HAWKS
HAWKS WINNING MOMENTUM REMINISCENT OF 12 MONTHS AGO
BUY IN OF THREE NEW FACES INSTRUMENTAL FOR WOLFPACK
After the two teams had finished second and third at the end of the regular season and then split the opening two matches of the series on their home floors, everything went on the line on Sunday afternoon at Lakeside Recreation Centre.
Geraldton had won Game 1 at home last Saturday night while Lakeside bounced back this Saturday night despite losing Kyle Armour along the way to a knee injury.
They moved Rowan Mackenzie into the starting line-up in his absence on Sunday and despite Geraldton scoring the first four points, Lakeside soon took control.
After leading 17-15, they finished the opening term on a 13-0 run including a three to Ben Lee, a triple to Jack Isenbarger, another to Michael Vigor, a layup to Mackenzie and finally a jumper from Isenbarger before the buzzer.
Lakeside maintained the edge for much of the second quarter and were even up 17 when Vigor drained a three again with 4:30 left on the clock.
But a Brayden Inger triple inspired the Buccs back into the contest with Colter Lasher hitting five quick points and then when teen sensation Alex Ducas finished the half with seven individual points he put his team back within four at the major break.
Lakeside pushed its advantage back out to eight to start the second half and they still led by seven at three quarter-time, and by eight early in the fourth when Jobi Wall connected from beyond the arc.
When Liam Hunt missed all three free-throws after being fouled attempting a long bomb it looked like the comeback just might not be on for the Buccs. But suddenly Aaron Ralph and Marcus Alipate hit from downtown and it was a two-point ball game.
Geraldton was picking up momentum and Hunt produced a statement block on Isenbarger, even though he came back down to score for Lakeside on the next possession to put them back up four with under seven minutes to play.
Lasher was becoming a man-on-a-mission with his attack on the basket and when he earned an and-one, scores were level with six to go.
After a nervous couple of minutes, Vigor scored inside for Lakeside and Ralph copped a tech foul as the Lightning went back up by three. But Lasher and Ducas just kept driving hard and getting to the line with scores again level with under four minutes left.
The Buccs forced another turnover and then Lasher produced yet another three-point play. This time it put his team up three but Isenbarger responded immediately with a triple.
Lasher would miss both free-throws after he again got to the line but then Geraldton regained the lead when Ralph banked in a desperation triple. Hunt then continued to battle manfully inside and finished a tough bucket as Geraldton went up five and the win was within reach.
Lakeside just couldn’t buy a basket with the season on the line as Geraldton scored the game’s last seven points to win by 10 and earn another crack at the club’s second championship.
Buccs coach Dayle Joseph couldn’t have been prouder of his group especially to have come from behind on the road to a Game 3 to get back to the Grand Final stage.
“The feeling is pretty much relief really to start with and we are enjoying the moment of having the win,” Joseph said.
“It could have gone either way and for us to be in front at the end, that’s sort of been the whole series for us and it was the same with the earlier series with the Senators.
“It was pretty much the same. We’ve had to work really hard to get here and I couldn’t be prouder of the guys.
“Lakeside were obviously down a man too in their rotation so we did feel as though if we could still be in the game at the end, then we thought we might wear them down and give ourselves a chance in the last couple of minutes.
“That’s pretty much how it panned out and I’m really grateful we were able to hang in there and keep close when it could have got away from us.”
Without question the difference proved to be the ability of the Buccs to take the ball hard to the rack and force Lakeside into fouls. They went to the line 36 times and only three players ventured there – Alex Ducas, Colter Lasher and Liam Hunt.
That trio were the stars for the Buccaneers with Ducas finishing with 25 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals in his last game before now beginning life at college with St Mary’s.
Hunt delivered 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists made the more impressive considering he was up against Jarrad Prue and Michael Vigor while Lasher produced 25 points, seven boards, three assists and two blocks.
Aaron Ralph added nine points and nine rebounds with Marcus Alipate contributing eight points, four boards and two assists.
Buccaneers captain Mat Wundenberg might have had a frustrating afternoon getting called for quick fouls each time he hit the floor, but that mattered little by the end as he celebrated his team getting back to a Grand Final.
“We are over the moon. Defensively we executed really well on our game plans there at the end and sometimes it comes down to hitting shots or missing them,” Wundenberg said.
“Unfortunately last night Lakeside hit some big shots at the end of the game that we would be happy for them to take, but today we got a couple of lucky rolls at the end which doesn’t take away from our boys’ defence.
“We contested shots really well, stuck to the game plan and some games come down to those one or two possessions. I felt like that the possessions that really mattered we executed what we wanted to do.
“We’ve been working hard as has every team to get this opportunity, but you just never know if it will come around again and we’ve now got there.
“It took us three games in both series to get there and we’d like to think that will hold us in good stead, but in saying that like we found out in the last Grand Final we made, anything can happen on the night.
“I’m sure the Wolves will go in as favourites but we are confident in ourselves to match up against them and anything can happen. We can’t wait to give it a crack.”
It was a season to be proud of for Lakeside as they went a step further from 12 months ago when they pushed Perry Lakes to three games in the quarter finals without Jack Isenbarger.
They will now never know what might have been had Kyle Armour been available this weekend, but to go to three games with Geraldton and for such a tight Game 3 shows they were not far off being a Grand Final team.
Isenbarger top-scored with 29 points and six assists with Jobi Wall contributing 19 points and three rebounds, Michael Vigor 15 points and nine boards, Rowan Mackenzie 12 points and three rebounds, and Jarrad Prue eight points and 17 boards.
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – SEMI FINALS GAME 2
Lakeside Lightning 96 defeated Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers 89 (Series tied 1-1)
ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks 94 lost to Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 109 (Joondalup wins 2-0)
SEMI FINALS GAME 3
Lakeside Lightning 86 lost to Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers 96 (Geraldton wins 2-1)