THE Perry Lakes Hawks booked their place in the West Coast Classic Grand Final as Cooper Hamilton lit up an undermanned Joondalup Wolves while Cody Ellis shot the Warwick Senators past a fast-finishing Lakeside Lightning on semi-final night.
The West Coast Classic has to be deemed a success going by any measure after it was started up following the forced cancellation of the SBL season thanks to COVID-19 in 2020.
The thrilling way the regular season finished backed up just how much it still meant to all clubs with the Joondalup Wolves qualifying for the finals with a thrilling two-point win over the Willetton Tigers while the Lakeside Lightning finished ahead of the Perth Redbacks based on one solitary point.
The fact that the Tigers and Redbacks, and even the Goldfields Giants and Rockingham Flames, had put together nine weeks of strong basketball in the West Coast Classic where they would have been strong finals contenders only highlights the strength of the competition.
But in the end the top four was decided and it all set up a fascinating semi-final night on Friday where the two winners would advance to Sunday’s Grand Final.
The night’s action got underway with the first semi-final at Bendat Basketball Centre and a Joondalup Wolves team minus Rob Huntington, Trian Iliadis, Reece Maxwell and as expected, import Lee Roberts, were no match for the Perry Lakes Hawks.
The depth and even spread the Hawks have shone out with all West Coast Classic was on full display as they went on to beat the Wolves 96-70.
Then at Warwick Stadium, the Warwick Senators had looked unstoppable coming into the finals.
That again appeared the case on Friday night with Wani Swaka Lo Buluk unbelievable at both ends, Corban Wroe and Jay Thwaites brilliant defensively, and then Cody Ellis and Caleb Davis battling hard against Lakeside’s big duo of Michael Vigor and Andrew Ferguson.
Warwick went on to lead by as much as 21 points but the Lightning were always going to make a run and they did to close to within two points down the stretch. The stage was set for a thrilling finish and fittingly it was Cody Ellis who hit three clutch three-point bombs to seal the deal as the Senators won 92-84.
That all now leads to the West Coast Classic Grand Final on Sunday night at Bendat Basketball Centre between the Warwick Senators and Perry Lakes Hawks.
WEST COAST CLASSIC 2020 – MEN’S SEMI FINALS
PERRY LAKES HAWKS 96 defeated JOONDALUP WOLVES 70
The Perry Lakes Hawks and Joondalup Wolves renewed their rivalry on Friday night and the Wolfpack sent a real scare into the home team before they were able to pull away at Bendat Basketball Centre.
The Hawks and Wolves are no strangers to meeting with plenty on the line with Perry Lakes beating Joondalup back in the 2018 SBL Grand Final while the Wolfpack knocked out the Hawks in the semi finals last year on their way to a fifth straight Grand Final appearance.
For a lot of the West Coast Classic, the Wolves and Hawks have also appeared two of the teams to beat so it was only fitting they did battle on Friday night in the semi-final with a Grand Final spot on the line.
Perry Lakes locked away second spot and home court advantage by finishing the season at 11-2 while Joondalup started with four straight wins before going 5-4 from there to end up third at 9-4.
But the Wolves did win the lone meeting between the teams even if the Hawks came into the finals with more momentum.
The chances of Joondalup then took a big hit by tip-off with import big Lee Roberts already being out for several weeks after leaving for Israel. But when key veterans Rob Huntington, Reece Maxwell and Trian Iliadis were out too, it pointed to a long night for the Wolves.
And that’s how it panned out for the most part with the Hawks leading early on 14-4 and then 19-10 with Cooper Hamilton on fire from three-point territory.
Perry Lakes still only led by six at quarter-time, though, before stretching that advantage to 11 by the half-time break.
The Hawks were still up by 10 heading into the fourth but the Wolves were doing well to hang in there and were then just seven points behind early in the last quarter when Lochlan Cummings hit a jumper.
It was again back to a seven-point game when Seb Salinas got to the rack, but Rob Cassir answered up the other end for Perry Lakes with a three-point play. Ryan Smith hit a triple soon after to blow it out again from there the Hawks ran away with the 96-70 victory.
That sees the Hawks advance to Sunday night’s Grand Final while the Wolves won’t be in an SBL/West Coast Classic Grand Final for the first time since 2014.
Cooper Hamilton delivered a huge performance for Perry Lakes on his way to 30 points, six rebounds and three steals while nailing 5/12 from three-point territory.
Ryan Smith also had 17 points with 3/7 from long-range while Ben Purser threatened a triple-double with 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Mitch Clarke also had 10 points and five assists, Rob Cassir nine points, six rebounds and four assists, and Bailey Cole seven points, five boards and three assists.
Lochlan Cummings produced 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolfpack with Matthew Teale adding 14 points and four steals, Hamish Cummings 10 points, Ben Ironmonger nine points and Seb Salinas eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.
WARWICK SENATORS 92 defeated LAKESIDE LIGHTNING 84
The Warwick Senators and Lakeside Lightning had the ability to put on a show in the semi-final at Warwick Stadium, and while the Senators blew it open early the Lightning came roaring back and it was a Warwick favourite son that shot the home side to victory.
The Senators have been the most exciting and dominant team in the West Coast Classic having won 12 straight matches following an opening night loss to the Perry Lakes Hawks.
With experience, depth, versatility, size and athletic coming from veterans Cody Ellis, Caleb Davis, Corban Wroe and Justin King, the emerging Wani Swaka Lo Buluk and important role players Ash Litterick, Jay Thwaites and Ngor Manyang combined with some exciting teenagers Ethan Elliott and Isaac Campion, and the Senators have set the courts alight this competition.
But if any club was capable of taking it right up to them with a Grand Final spot on the line then it was the Lightning featuring two genuine bigs Michael Vigor and Andrew Ferguson, and big-time scorers Jay Bowie, Jack Isenbarger and Ben Lee.
So the stage was set with a big crowd on hand at Warwick Stadium and while Lakeside tried to establish an inside presence with their big men early, it was the Senators that made a hot start.
Wani Swaka Lo Buluk was everywhere at both ends of the floor and when he hit a three, Warwick led 9-4 early before Caleb Davis knocked down a three, and Lo Buluk scored inside to make it a 14-6 opening.
Cody Ellis, an under the weather Justin King and Lo Buluk then hit three balls as the Senators went up by 16 which became 18 when Ngor Manyang threw one down after a steal from Ellis.
An and-one play to King then saw the home team up 21 which soon before Lakeside steadied with their own 6-0 to be back within 15 by quarter-time.
Lakeside were still down 15 but trying to go inside and then the player of the night came when Ferguson was attempted a move down on the block. As he got off his little hook shot, out of nowhere came a flying Lo Buluk who soared above the rim to slot the ball away.
That lit the crowd alight and even more so when up the other end Jay Thwaites scored to put the Senators again up 17, and the margin was still 16 in their favour by half-time.
Lakeside was working back into the contest, though, and had got it back to a 10-point game by three quarter-time.
Then Bowie opened the fourth term with a triple and Josh Davey scored inside to make it just a five-point game. Cody Ellis was warming up and answered with a three for the Senators, but the Lightning come back was just getting started too.
Beau Pearson came on for a cameo and hit from deep before Ferguson scored down low and Jack Isenbarger connected on a three ball to make it a four-point ball game again in no time.
Lo Buluk responded with an offensive board and putback, but then Bowie and Pearson both scored getting to the rim and the Lightning were two points behind with under three minutes remaining.
It was Cody Ellis time at Warwick Stadium. With his dad coaching and uncle Glenn watching on closely, the former Illawarra Hawks and Sydney Kings NBL star showed he has the temperament again for the big moment.
He nailed one big triple to put the Senators up five with 2:30 left before adding another with 1:45 on the clock and then came the clincher with 45 seconds remaining and he had shot his team into the Grand Final with the 92-84 victory.
Senators coach Mike Ellis was relieved and excited after the match to now have Warwick into a Grand Final on Sunday night.
“It’s great to get past the semis, it really is, because we’ve been knocked out the last few years before the Grand Final so that was a big focus for the guys to take that next step and get through,” Ellis said.
“Yes it’s the West Coast Classic, but you can’t tell me they aren’t playing for sheep stations out here. I still think they should count this as an SBL season and the players should get credited for the games played as SBL games even though it’s called the West Coast Classic.
“The standard of the games have been phenomenal. There were a couple of teams that struggled a little, but we knew that would happen because they rely heavily on imports, but for the most part they had pretty good sides.
“Look at Lakeside, they had two imports, an international player and a Wildcats player so they’d be a solid SBL side and I’d like to think we would be too. So it was a great game and I just enjoyed being part of it. It was great, nerve racking, but great.”
Cody Ellis ended the night with 23 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals while hitting 6/11 from three-point range on the back of 30 points and six threes last Saturday.
Ellis was especially to see his son Cody as the man to shoot the Senators into the Grand Final, the first the club has taken part in since losing to the Perth Redbacks in 1990.
“It was huge for Cody. He has kind of wanted to make it that next step up as well to get us past these playoff series’ and into Grand Finals, and to start looking to win Grand Finals,” Ellis said.
“Those shots were huge and I think he had 16 in the fourth quarter which is massive in the scheme of things, but to me as a coach as great as the shots were, it was the three defensive rebounds and the blocked shots in that time when they were coming back at us that were massive.
“And he copped a couple of hits to the jaw a few times guarding their big boys, but he held his ground and that’s what we were talking about. You just have to hold your ground against guys that big and it means a lot to me that it was Cody who came up so big, and I think it means a lot to him.”
Wani Swaka Lo Buluk was incredible for the Senators too at both ends of the floor with 19 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and that massive block on Andrew Ferguson.
Caleb Davis stepped up big too with 19 points, five rebounds and three assists while Corban Wroe’s numbers of nine points, seven assists and five rebounds might not standout, but his defence leadership and commitment was infectious and instrumental.
Justin King also had 12 points while feeling short of 100 per cent with Jay Thwaites chiming in with four points and five rebounds to go with some brilliant defence.
Jack Isenbarger ended up top-scoring for the Lightning with 19 points, three rebounds and three assists to go with Michael Vigor’s 16 points, six boards and four assists, and Andrew Ferguson’s 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Jay Bowie added 13 points, five rebounds and five assists, and Ben Lee nine points and six rebounds.
Ellis always knew it would take a monster effort from the Senators to beat the dangerous Lightning, and it was the defensive effort led by Lo Buluk, Cody Ellis, Wroe, Davis and Jay Thwaites that especially delighted him.
“The other key to our defence is Jay Thwaites and if you look at an All-Star Defensive team for this competition we’d have to have at least three of the guys in the team when you look at Cody’s defence, you look at what Wani does and Corban, and then even Jay,” Ellis said.
“His role in this game was extra minutes because he was there defensively and he did a great job of it. Fricken hell, Isenbarger got hot towards the end and we knew he would.
“And on that last shot he hit Cody was all over him, Caleb was running at him and I was behind him and couldn’t see the rim through there, and it was nothing but net. So that guy can shoot but we were lucky we put the work in with our defence at the start of the game to build that lead and then hold on to it.”