BENDIGO Braves have a capped a truly remarkable SEABL season by clinching their sixth women’s national championship.
The Braves, led by a game MVP-winning performance from star centre Gabe Richards, defeated Launceston Tornadoes by 23 points at the State Basketball Centre in Melbourne on Saturday night.
A season which began with a dominant 27 point win against Diamond Valley Eagles back in April and included 20 consecutive regular season wins, ended with a breathtaking 119-96 championship victory against the Tornadoes.
The championship win was the Braves’ 23rd overall victory from 24 games this season.
A relentless Braves had the better of a high-scoring first quarter and led 33-28 at the first break.
Richards, who returned to the Braves line-up this season for the first time since 2010, sounded an early warning with 14 first quarter points and six rebounds.
Ellie Collins was equally as devastating for the Tornadoes with 12 points, underpinned by a trifecta of three-point baskets.
The Braves were able to break the game open in the second term, with a 30-18 quarter establishing a critical 17 point lead at the main break.
Long-time team-mates Richards and Wilson, who played in a SEABL championship together with Knox in 2013 against the Braves, inflicted most damage on the Tornadoes in the first half.
The centre went to the break with 21 points and nine rebounds, while Wilson had 15 points, 12 assists and three rebounds.
The Braves were able to extend their margin to 20 mid-way through the third quarter, before the Tornadoes rallied with a 9-0 run to edge within 11 points late in the quarter.
A basket to Ash Karaitiana, who ended the game with 21 points and five rebounds, halted the Tornadoes’ momentum, with the Braves able to head to the three quarter time huddle 13 points ahead.
That was as close as Launceston would get, with Richards punctuating one of the all-time great SEABL grand final performances with 17 final quarter points to lead the Braves to their first championship in 11 years.
Richards finished with an astonishing 43 points and 24 rebounds.
It was the second big night out this season against Launceston for the two-time WNBL All-Star, who scored 36 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a July 7 regular season win.
Wilson capped a stellar season, which netted her a spot in the All-SEABL first team with 27 points, 20 assists, 3 rebounds, while the team’s season MVP Nadeen Payne contributed 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
The win reversed a shock qualifying final loss to the Tornadoes at Bendigo Stadium three weeks ago, the only loss in a commanding season for the talent-laden Braves.
Coach Moody, who clinched a championship win in her first season at the helm of the SEABL team, came prepared for a shootout and that’s exactly what the Braves and Tornadoes produced.
“We really wanted to push the tempo; we’ve tried to do that all season,” she said.
“The last time we played Launceston, they did a fantastic job of slowing us down – that was one of our points of emphasis – and also to lock them down on their offensive board.
“For a team that doesn’t have a massive centre, they are one of the best rebounding teams. They score at least 20 points a game off offensive rebounds.”
On the end of grand final defeat last season as a Braves assistant coach, Moody believed the win validated the club’s strong focus on recruiting and the single-mindedness of the playing group to keep raising the bar as the wins mounted throughout the season.
“We knew with the players that we brought in that we could be in this game, but it was going to be how they came together,” she said.
“But every single player brought in, whether they were a 30 minute a game player, or whether they were a 30 second (player).
“Our trainings were intense, our games were great; they love playing for each other and they were proud to put on the jersey and play for the club.
“When you have that culture and the culture is driving the team things happen.”
We knew with the players that we brought in that we could be in this game (grand final), but it was going to be how they came together.Megan Moody
The championship win was the Braves first since landing back-to-back titles in 2007 under former coach Bernie Harrower against arch-rival Ballarat.
They previously won titles in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2006.
As she did after last week’s preliminary final win against Kilsyth, Moody praised the support of the Braves vocal and large band of travelling supporters, who created a home game-like atmosphere.
“It’s fantastic to see the support we’ve had; we’ve had great support all season,” she said.
“To get the support here tonight and last week against Kilsyth, I can’t thank our supporters enough.
“It’s game like this when you get the crowd involved that just gives you a little bit extra.”
For Launceston, Ellie Collins enhanced her reputation with 26 points and six rebounds, while Alex Partridge played her heart out and finished with 19 points.
The Braves were able to subdue big guns Lauren Nicholson (24 points) and Lauren Mansfield (12) for large chunks of the game.