THE Bendigo Lady Braves wrote a new chapter into their glittering history with a 13-point SEABL east conference final win over Sandringham on Saturday night.
The Lady Braves came-from-behind to triumph 62-49 at Bendigo Stadium.
The Lady Braves’ first conference title since 2007 – and sixth overall – has earned them a shot at a third ABA national championship this Sunday.
Bendigo will take on the Knox Raiders – led by Spirit stars Kelly Wilson and Gabe Richards – in the championship match at Dandenong.
“(To win the conference title) was a nice feeling, but the players are all pretty keen to get next weekend under their belt,” first-year Lady Braves coach Jonathan Goodman said.
The Lady Braves will need a much better start in Sunday’s game to compete with Knox’s firepower.
Bendigo had to rely solely on defence to stay in the game during a sluggish first half on Saturday night.
Bendigo only mustered 17 first half points at 20 per cent accuracy from the field.
Sandringham’s stifling pressure and organised offence silenced the near capacity Bendigo Stadium crowd.
The Lady Braves were down by 11 points at half-time, but a “stern talking to” by Goodman at half-time jolted the Lady Braves into action.
All Bendigo’s big names lifted.
The Lady Braves put the Sabres to the sword 46-21 after the main break.
Last season’s league MVP Renae Camino only had two points to the main break, but finished with 18 and seven rebounds.
The star guard’s three-point bombs got the Lady Braves rolling and fired-up the crowd.
“Renae hit some big threes just to get us going and she was fist-pumping every shot there in the second half,” Goodman said.
Heather Oliver sunk 16 points – 10 after half-time – and 12 rebounds in another best-on-court display.
Lauren King was back in familiar territory giving away inches to the opposition’s bigs.
But, like she has all season, King refused to let her team down.
The forward-turned-centre grabbed nine boards to go with 13 points.
King combined with the unheralded Andrea Wilson to shut down Hope Walker in the second-half turnaround.
Walker had 12 points in the first half, but only added two after the long break.
“In the second half we had so many players contribute and that’s just going to have to be for four quarters next week,” Goodman said.
The Lady Braves’ defence became an impenetrable wall after the main break and Sandringham suddenly couldn’t sink a bucket.
“I think that’s something we’ve always been good at, we’ve always prided ourselves on locking teams down,” Goodman said.
The likes of Kiwi international Micaela Cocks, seven points, and Sam Woosnam, 13, were made impotent as the pressure told.
The Sabres were forced into 18 turnovers – 10 after half-time – to nine and coughed-up 21 points from turnovers to Bendigo’s two.
“I think one of the key stats was keeping Cocks to two points at half-time. She’s an Olympian, she’s tough and I thought we did a great job on her,” Goodman said.
The Sabres’ lost the ball seven times in the third quarter and, unlike the first two terms, Bendigo made them pay.
The Lady Braves produced a stunning 23-11 burst to take a one-point lead into the final change.
Seven points in a row to Camino put Bendigo ahead for the first time midway through the third.
The Lady Braves briefly gave up the lead near three-quarter time, but were never challenged in the last term.
An 11-3 start to the fourth gave Bendigo the buffer it needed.
Sandringham went scoreless for nearly five minutes as Bendigo ground out win number 23 for the season.
Fittingly, it was left to Oliver to bring the house down with a three-point bomb two seconds before the final buzzer to send the Lady Braves to the big dance.