THE Bendigo IGA Lady Braves came within three points of capturing the SEABL-ABA championship double in Newcastle yesterday.
The Lady Braves lost a thrilling grand final 69-66 to arch-rival the Ballarat Lady Miners.
The Lady Braves, who defeated Ballarat in last Saturday's SEABL decider, led by 11 points at quarter-time of yesterday's final, but two tough games in the lead-up to the
finale took its toll in the final three quarters.
The Lady Braves ran out of petrol tickets and Ballarat slowly took control.
By half-time the Lady Braves lead was back to three and Ballarat hit the front for good midway through the third quarter.
Ballarat jumped out to an eight-point lead in the final quarter before the Lady Braves mounted a comeback.
A three-point basket to Bec May cut the deficit to three with one minute remaining.
The teams then traded baskets, leaving the Lady Braves with 13 seconds to try and force overtime.
They tried to run a play for co-captain Andrea Walsh, but Ballarat's tight defence defused the play and it was left to Dee Butler to chance her arm while under
Her shot fell short and Ballarat celebrated back-to-back ABA national titles.
"I'm disappointed, but it's not a massive disappointment," Lady Braves coach Bernie Harrower said.
"The title we play for all season is the SEABL title and we got that.
This would have been icing on the cake.
"We gave our all, but we just
didn't have any legs left in the end."
The Lady Braves had to pull out
all stops to make the final.
On Friday night they held out Sydney 79-70 and then Saturday's semi-final went down to the wire against Bankstown with Bendigo winning 85-79.
"We started the final really well, but I could see in the second quarter we were in trouble," Harrower said.
"We had a tough draw and it hurt us in the end."
Offence was the Lady Braves biggest problem.
Walsh was outstanding in the first two games scoring 31 and 34 points to earn a place in the national finals all-star five.
But after playing nearly every minute of the first two games, Walsh lacked spark in the final and was held to three points by Andrea McMahon.
Centre Kelly Lemezs was unlucky not join Walsh in the All-Star Five.
Lemezs was Bendigo's best in the final, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Michelle Fletcher rounded off a solid weekend with 14 points and five rebounds.
Dee Butler added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Former Lady Braves Karen Ashby was the difference between the two teams.
Ashby was named grand final MVP for her 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.
Harrower, who heads to Brazil tomorrow to watch his daughter, Kristi, play in the world titles, said his team should be proud of what it has achieved in 2006.
"At the start of the year if you had have said to me that we'd win the SEABL championship and finish runner-up in the nationals, I would have taken it without a
second thought," he said.
"The girls have done a sensational job this year.
"I just don't want today's loss to take the gloss off it."
In Saturday's semi-final, the Lady Braves led by 15 points in the third quarter before withstanding a fierce Bankstown comeback.
The Bruins were back within two points with one minute to play, but two costly turnovers enabled the Lady Braves to seal victory.
Walsh was heroic with 34 points on 12-of-20 shooting, including five three-pointers.
Lemezs had 19 points and seven rebounds, while Fletcher and Butler added 13 and 11 points respectively.
May played a crucial cameo scoring six points in the final two minutes.
In the men's final, SEABL east conference champion the Geelong Supercats were too
strong for Big V conference winners the Dandenong Rangers in yesterday's national final.
The Supercats knocked out SEABL south conference champion the Knox Raiders in Saturday's semi-finals and were rarely troubled in the final yesterday.
The Supercats won 94-80, with Dandenong's Ash Cannan named grand final MVP.