THE Rockingham Flames hadn’t lost a game in more than a year until last week and now they need to get the job done at home to the Joondalup Wolves on Saturday or be in real danger of slipping from the top four in the West Coast Classic.
That’s how tight things are for all the clubs in the finals hunt for the top four with only four rounds of the West Coast Classic remaining. With only 11 games to be played and four teams reaching the finals, every game from now for those teams in contention takes on greater significance.
While the Joondalup Wolves currently appear to be the team to beat having won all five of their matches, the Wolfpack now face a fascinating weekend which could determine a lot about where they and their opponents end up.
It all begins on Friday night when the Wolves host the fifth placed Perry Lakes Hawks at HBF Arena with the Lady Hawks coming into that game on a five-game winning streak and having been the only team to defeat the Rockingham Flames.
Then it is the Flames who return home to Mike Barnett Sports Complex on Saturday night to host the Lady Wolfpack in a tantalising match up between the top two teams coming into Round 6 of the West Coast Classic.
The Friday night battle at HBF Arena between the Lady Wolfpack and Hawks will be fascinating and it’s the first time they’ve met since Perry Lakes dominated Joondalup in the quarter finals of the 2019 SBL season.
While the Hawks have been tremendous in winning five straight matches, the fact they lost their first two games means they need to keep winning to remain a chance of breaking into the top four while the Wolves need to keep winning to hold onto top spot.
The Wolves then back up on Saturday night with the trip to Rockingham which is going to be equally as tantalising when they take on the Flames.
Rockingham won its last four games of the regular season last year, won all five games in the playoffs on the way to winning the SBL championship and then won the first four games of the West Coast Classic.
That saw them go on a 13-game winning streak and thanks to COVID-19, that meant that winning streak had lasted since July 5 last year. It came to an end last Friday night at the hands of Perry Lakes before Rockingham bounced back to beat the Willetton Tigers the next night.
Now it’s another huge test for the Flames up against the Wolves on Saturday night in what could very well determine how both teams end up by the end of the West Coast Classic.
For Rockingham coach Keegan Crawford, he knows that things are getting serious now as the end of the season closes in and he is fully aware of the challenge that the Wolves present.
“We can all say we are trying to develop and everyone is, I think they are genuine with that, but the second you put all these coaches and players on the floor, one of the reasons we are involved is because we are so competitive and want to win,” Crawford told SBL Shootaround.
“Where the real value comes is by merging the development and winning, and we are kind of that in between gap of trying to win and develop. Now with three or four weeks left, everyone is eyeing off each other a bit more.
“Nixy has done such a good job with that group and all the experienced players that they have. It’s an absolute task to go up against that club in general and then you look at girls like Kayla Steindl and Mik Pirini, and how they are really developing and changing their games, we’ll have to change up some stuff against them.
“Hopefully we can catch them off guard but regardless of the scoreline, we’ll review it and we’ll have to compete against those girls. We have to try and make sure we get everyone into this game with a chance to play.”
While the Flames are the reigning SBL champions, this is a remarkably young group they are putting out there in the West Coast Classic.
Take out Christina Boag, Paris Duffield and Ariana Hetherington, and it’s virtually a group of teenagers and that’s something Crawford takes pride in especially given the fact they appear to be developing at the same time as still winning.
“What we have seen this year is creating an interesting point for what we now do next year,” he said.
“There are four or five girls who are playing massive minutes that probably wouldn’t have had a role in SBL 20. They are doing so well that they deserve a role next year so how we carve that out will be a really cool picture.
“We’re not the only club doing that way and a lot of clubs are treating it that way, but it comes down to the directive of what your club wants to get out of it.
“But take Chris away and Ariana Hetherington is probably our elder statesmen at 21 years of age and she played her 100th game in the Grand Final last year. We are just trying to do stuff style of play-wise that maximises our youth and size, and so far it’s working out really well.”
While not too fussed that the winning streak came to an end last week, Crawford really is delighted to have won five of six games so far in the West Coast Classic while giving so many minutes to so many young players.
“COVID helped with that length of the streak, but we’re not record based or at least we weren’t coming into this West Coast Classic, but a big part of developing is learning how to win and be competitive,” Crawford said.
“But if you had told me we would have been 5-1 at this point of the season, I would have taken that and while we did drop one to Perry Lakes, I’m really impressed with where we’re at right now.”
There are plenty of more matches to keep your eye out on in Round 6 of the West Coast Classic including on Friday night the Perth Redbacks taking on the Kalamunda Eastern Suns at Belmont Oasis, and the South West Slammers hosting the Willetton Tigers at Eaton Recreation Centre.
Then also on Saturday evening, the Mandurah Magic are at home to the Warwick Senators, the Perry Lakes Hawks back up to host the East Perth Eagles and the Kalamunda Eastern Suns play the South West Slammers at Ray Owen Sports Centre.
WEST COAST CLASSIC 2020 – WOMEN
Perth Redbacks v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – Belmont Oasis 6.30pm
South West Slammers v Willetton Tigers – Eaton Recreation Centre 6.30pm
Joondalup Wolves v Perry Lakes Hawks – HBF Arena 6.30pm
Mandurah Magic v Warwick Senators – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 5.00pm
Perry Lakes Hawks v East Perth Eagles – Bendat Basketball Centre 6.00pm
Rockingham Flames v Joondalup Wolves – Mike Barnett Sports Complex 6.00pm
Kalamunda Eastern Suns v South West Slammers – Ray Owen Sports Centre 6.30pm