Suns fall short at last hurdle

The Kalamunda Eastern Suns must wait another year to claim a maiden, franchise championship. Already having claimed a piece of history, being the first team from the Kalamunda Eastern Suns franchise to qualify for an SBL Grand Final, the Suns were outmatched by a more experienced and physical Wanneroo Wolves, going down 47-72, in a game played in good spirits, on Friday night in the WSBL Grand Final at the WA Basketball Centre in front of vocal supporter groups.

The championship victory is the first since 1995 for the ‘Wolfpack Ladies’. Nikita-Lee Martin was adjudged the Grand Final MVP, scoring 13 points and pulling down 7 rebounds, capping a great night and season for Head Coach Vlad Alava and his Wolves team.

Following a scrappy, nervous, start to the game, in which both sides traded misses, it was the Suns, through Sass Knox who opened the scoring, which was a prelude for both sides trading baskets in what was a free-flowing, entertaining and also high scoring half-court battle with both sides tied at 13, halfway through the first. The points dried up towards the end of the first, but it was Wanneroo’s shooting, at 50%, that kept them in touch, with both sides locked at 18.

The second quarter began similar to the first, with neither side finding offensive rhythm and Wanneroo making their intention clear looking for post Casey Lockwood on numerous trips down the floor. An early highlight was a Mel Moyle step away jumper which momentarily regained the lead for the Suns, 24-23, but it would ultimately be their last. When Jennie Rintala registered her third foul, in just over ten minutes of first half action, and headed to the bench, Ainsleigh Sanders took advantage, scoring inside and the Wolves had gone on a 13-2 run. Lizel Buckley was big, off the bench, in the first half for the Suns, ending the Wolves’ run with a basket inside and then attacking the rim aggressively to draw a foul. The Suns managed to settle as Buckley rebounded and went coast to coast drawing another foul and knocking down both free throws, to reduce the margin to 4, which it would stay at until half-time, the Suns trailling 33-37.

The third quarter was lacklustre as both sides turned the ball over and the Suns scored only one field goal, for a total of 6 points. Another telling stat was the third quarter rebound count, the Wolves winning comfortably 15-4. Following two clean sweeps in the opening rounds of play-offs action in which they were physical and aggressive, the Suns were outmuscled in the third quarter, though Suns Coach Craig Mansfield wasn’t putting this down to ‘running out of steam’. “I don’t think we ran out of steam, I think we had good momentum, I think we were probably beaten by a better team tonight and more experienced and physically at us, and the whole week, the experience is very new for all our girls, so they’ll take a lot out of it and learn” said Mansfield.

It was again Buckley who restored hope for the Suns fans in the third, knocking down a pair of free throws then Sass Knox put on a big block on Wolves’ centre Alex Kerr, but the ball fell back to Kerr who made no mistake a second time and when Lockwood scored again the margin was back into double digits, Wanneroo leading 50-39 at the final break.

Needing a big final quarter, some tactical changes by Coach Mansfield paid early dividends for the Suns who forced two turnovers, but as was the story of the night, the Suns were not able to capitalise on their opportunities. Chelsea Burns struck the first dagger, immediately responding to a Jennie Rintala basket, which sparked a massive 19-0 run for the Wolves, in which Sanders, Lockwood, Nikita Martin and Shani Amos, who was well held for most of the game, were heavily involved. When Sue Williams, playing her 512th SBL game, equalling the All-Time SBL games played record, nailed another basket, the margin had blown out to 28, finishing 72-47 in favour of the Wolves.

Whilst the young Suns outfit, no doubt, have a great opening in the ‘championship window’, Grand Final opportunities don’t come often, a fact that wasn’t lost on Mansfield. “Yeah I think we’ll definitely continue to improve over the next few years assuming the girls do the work and assuming we stay together. The thing is, the 2011 Grand Final had East Perth and Willetton, 2012 had Bunbury and Rockingham and 2013 had Wanneroo and Suns, you know, those teams didn’t get back there so there’s no guarantee we will. We have to obviously get a bit better and put some work in” said Mansfield.

One thing is for sure, the future is bright for the Kalamunda Eastern Suns WSBL team with an average team age of 21.4 years and. Given that the team nearly missed the play-offs altogether, following a 6 game losing streak, to qualify for the Grand Final, has been a wonderful achievement. The demonstration of support over the entire season, but in particular in the play-off series, from the loyal Suns supporters shows that the team has a solid base to build from and is heading in the right direction off the court as well. Whilst the disappointment of having come so close yet finishing so far will linger, Mansfield was optimistic, upbeat and positive regarding the 2014 campaign: “We’ve got a few girls re-signed already, and over the next week….the next couple of weeks, talk to a few and see what their plans are and the aim is to have a core group that we can build on re-signed and then see what else happens over the off-season and put a good pre-season in”.

GAME NOTES

-Tellingly, the Wolves won the crucial, play-off, statistical categories of: Rebounds (48-27), Points in the Paint (32-14), Second Chance Points (10-0) and Points off Turnovers (12-4).

Interestingly, the Wolves did not shoot a free throw in the first half, whilst the Suns made 8/14. Overall the Wolves made 6/12 while the Suns scored almost a third of their points, 14, from the stripe (14/20).

-47 points is the lowest offensive output for the season by the Suns.

-The Wolves score of 72 is their highest against the Suns this season, after scoring 71 in both previous encounters.

The Suns shot the ball at 15/63 from the field, an abysmal 24% whilst the Wolves were far more effective shooting at 30/71 for a clip of 42%.

-The rings at the WA Basketball Centre have not been kind to the Suns this season, in their previous game, against the Perry Lakes Hawks, they shot the ball at a slightly better 30%, 24/79

-Jennie Rintala and Ainsleigh Sanders both tied for a game-high 4 blocks each.

Article by Steve Trajeski
Photo by Mick Cronin




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