By Trevor Jackson
THE Mount Gambier Lakers women will contest the Country Basketball League grand final on Saturday after a stunning semi-final victory over the Warrnambool Mermaids last weekend.
The Lakers finished the minor rounds in fourth place, while the Mermaids claimed top spot and were hot favourites to take the title.
However, on the back of a 28-point game to Tenielle Human, the Lakers hit the court hard, with three winning quarters to stun the Mermaids by 27 points.
It was only the final stanza where the Mermaids outscored the Lakers, but by just three points.
That was too little, too late and the Lakers claimed a grand final berth against the Portland Coasters.
The Coasters made easy work of their semi-final against the Horsham Hornets, victorious to the tune of 24 points.
Head-to-head throughout the minor rounds the Coasters have the upper hand, with a six-point victory over the Lakers in Round 3, then by eight points in Round 10.
The semi-final clash against the Mermaids saw almost every player score, with Nikeisha Facey joining Human in double figures with 13 points.
Mikaela Horrigan was just shy of that with nine points, while Olivia Wormald and Casey Horrigan had seven points each.
While it would be fair to say the Coasters would start this one as favourites, the Lakers can not be ignored, especially after the semi-final victory which would certainly boost their confidence.
Coach Scott O’Connor said he was pleased with the semi-final performance and looked for more of the same on Saturday night.
“We had beaten the Mermaids in Warrnambool earlier in the year, so we were quietly confident, but I think the way we did it probably surprised even us,” he said.
“Our performance was incredible, probably the best game we have played all year.
“The girls defended like their life depended on it and the way we played I think pushed them and rattled them.”
O’Connor said he was not surprised by the performance of Human, who he said had continued to improve all season.’
“She had 22 points at half time and has been important for us all year,” he said.
“She goes hard and never stops working.
“Her best work is usually on the defensive end, guarding the opposition’s best player and rebounding well.
“She has been real positive and taken leaps and bounds all season.”
Likewise O’Connor said Facey had played a major role in the roster.
“She is a kid who works in credibly hard,” he said.
“Her work usually begins on the defensive end, but a lot of her points last week came from the offensive end, getting rebounds and second-chance points.”
However, against Portland, O’Connor said the Lakers would have to play as well, if not better than the semi-final to be in with a chance of taking home the championship honours.
“Portland is a really tough outfit, but we are really deep,” he said.
“Every player contributes and when we make substitutions, we don’t get weaker.
“That is a strength of ours and something we will hope to rely on this weekend.”
It has been an up-and-down season for the Lakers, but it appears all is on track at the right time of the year.
“The way the season started with lack of numbers, to turn around and make a grand final the way we did, it is a testament to the girls and the way they have worked,” O’Connor said.
“We kept improving each week and I think we are starting to put it together at the right time.
“Hopefully we can put in another great performance on Saturday.”
Despite his side’s improvement and a full roster ready to go, O’Connor is under no illusions about how tough the contest will be.
“Portland is a tough squad and we know we are up against it,” he said.
“Portland and Warrnambool have the two standouts all year, but we have jumped one hurdle, so we just need to attack the next.”