The Bendigo Braves under-16 boys are National Junior Classic champions for the first time.
The Braves won Monday’s final at the State Basketball Centre in Melbourne against the Hills Hornets in emphatic style, 71-52.
The Braves were just the fourth Victorian regional team in the prestigious tournament’s history to win the under-16 boys crown following Shepparton (1983), Geelong (1999) and Southern Peninsula (2015).
As a club, the Braves previously won the under-14 girls National Junior Classic in 2016.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the boys,’’ Braves’ under-16 coach Ben McCauley said.
“That is the best game this group has played together. To do that in a grand final was pretty special.”
Led by a brilliant individual performance from guard Dyson Daniels, the Braves took control of the grand final from the tip-off and then fended off a third quarter fightback from the Sydney-based Hornets.
After averaging 20 points per game for the tournament leading into the grand final, Daniels went up a gear on the big stage.
The son of Bendigo Braves champion Ricky Daniels, scored 34 points and was fittingly named grand final MVP.
He received plenty of support from his team-mates, with Macey Eaton adding eight points and Dylan McCauley seven points.
The hard work of frontcourt quartet Jackson Fletcher, Xavier Cole, Zac Fry and Will Beagley was instrumental in the win.
“Those four boys played their role perfectly,’’ McCauley said.
“They’re not flashy, they just play hard. They crashed the boards for us.”
Ironically, the Braves lost to the Hills Hornets by 12 points in Saturday’s tournament opener.
That left them with little margin for error if they wanted to make the quarter-finals.
The Braves entered their final pool game against Dandenong on Sunday needing to win by eight points to secure a play-off berth. They won by nine points.
The Braves held off the Sydney Comets 66-62 in the quarter-finals, outplayed North Adelaide 77-65 in the semi-finals before saving their best performance for the grand final.
The Braves jumped out of the blocks and a 10-1 burst put the Hornets on the back foot.
A Daniels three-point bomb on the quarter-time buzzer gave the Braves a 24-8 lead at the first break.
The Braves’ defensive intensity and domination of the boards continued in the second quarter.
Daniels scored 20 of the Braves’ first 34 points as they raced to a 34-10 lead and by half-time the margin was 28 points.
The Hornets started to find their range in the third quarter and cut the deficit to 13 points before Daniels steadied the ship again with back-to-back three pointers.
The Braves cruised through the final quarter and celebrated a stunning championship victory.
Meanwhile, the Braves’ under-16 girls finished fifth.
Despite the absence of star centre Piper Dunlop, the Nick Salm-coached squad played superb team basketball to qualify for the quarter-finals.
The Braves suffered a heartbreaking two-point loss to Bulleen in their quarter-final.
They bounced back strongly to defeat Diamond Valley 48-43 and Dandenong 42-37 to earn fifth place.