By Trevor Jackson
MOUNT GAMBIER LAKERS 100 D HORSHAM HORNETS 88
THE Mount Gambier Lakers men have returned home with a championship flag after a solid second-half effort against Horsham Hornets in the Country Basketball League South West Men’s grand final on Saturday night.
A 37-point MVP effort from Simon Berkefeld capped off what was an exciting contest at Horsham.
Tom Daly chipped in with 24 points, to join Berkefeld in the All Star Five for the league.
While the final 100-88 scoreline looked comfortable, the Lakers were forced to play catch-up basketball after the home side was off to a strong start.
The Lakers trailed by just one point at the first break, but the Hornets threatened to open the game up in the second quarter, outscoring the visitors by seven points for a handy eight-point half-time lead.
From there the Lakers began to find their feet and evened the score by the long break.
With Braiden Ousey out early with an injury, the remaining players lifted, with an impressive defensive effort from Toby deWit to subdue the input of Horsham’s Austin McKenzie.
By the final stanza the Hornets were under pressure, with the Lakers playing the best game of their season, with a 37-25 quarter for the championship victory.
However, the game was certainly not over until the final siren, with several lead changes down the stretch.
It required the best efforts from the Lakers’ younger brigade, with Shaun Lock (14) and Ben Young (10), along with deWit (9), lifting when the game was in the balance.
Timely three-point baskets were the difference in the end, with scores level with just 5.37 minutes left on the game clock.
Young stood up and drained a triple to put the Lakers clear, but the Hornets responded through Matthew Brown for a two-point basket.
Berkefeld countered with a three, then Daly added a two to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Horsham responded yet again and with three-and-a-half minutes remaining, Lock hit a triple for a seven-point advantage to the Lakers.
DeWit added a triple inside the final two minutes, but the Lakers still were not home.
With less than a minute on the clock another three to Horsham closed the margin to six points and the Hornets were forced to play fouls in an attempt to gain possession.
However, the Lakers hit their shots and the championship was headed to Mount Gambier.
Winning coach Matt Berkefeld described it as the biggest win of his coaching career and of the season.
“It was our toughest test for the year,” he said.
“They played well, they shot the ball well, they were in front for large portions of the game and it was only the last few minutes we pulled away.”
Berkefeld was quick to attribute the win to several players, not just the two top scorers.
“Horsham had the league’s leading scorer playing and Toby defended him really well,” he said.
“You will never completely shut out players of that ilk, but Toby made things as hard ass possible “We had in our minds two or three guys we wanted to stop and we did a reasonable job on them, but Horsham had guys who were lesser known who stood up and had the best games of their season.
“That made it hard to defend.”
Berkefeld said after losing Ousey early in the game, his side was a bit light on, but the younger players stood tall when it was needed most.
“Horsham is a big side, so Braiden was always going to be important to us,” he said.
“He was playing well when he went down.
“Shaun Lock and Ben Young started on the bench and both had big games, particularly in the second half.
“They both got going offensively and filled the defensive role Braiden would have had.
“It was a tough ask for guys like Ben, Toby and Shaun giving up a lot of size and weight, but they fought hard.”
As for Daly and Simon Berkefeld, Matt Berkefeld said they played important roles in the win and were joined by the younger players to finish the game off in style.
“Simon was big early when Horsham was on top,” he said.
“I felt he kept us in it.
“Tom, particularly in the third quarter, I thought he instigated our comeback.
“Ben, Toby and Shaun – when Horsham put a lot of pressure into Tom and Simon, those three hit big shots in the last five minutes.
“They did it when it was needed.
“The younger players are not scared of the moment.
“They have a history of performing well in big games and I think that is one of the best attributes you can have in sport.”
The final result was in the balance for the majority of time, with just a small percentage going the way of Mount Gambier at the right time.
Berkefeld said there was never a moment when he felt comfortable, apart from the final minute of play.
“Our opposition played well enough to win the game,” he said.
“The part I was most proud of was we were really challenged, we were down early in front of a really vocal crowd and that was the moment when the boys stood up.
“We had several players who didn’t start the game great, but when the pressure was on, they came home strong.
“We were tested like we haven’t been in a long time.
“To get the win it took a lot of guys playing at their absolute best to just scrape by and that made me proud.
“It was a good opposition, a big crowd, big stakes and when the game was there to be won, our young guys stood up and I couldn’t be more proud of that.”