By JARROD POTTER
SEABL – SEMI-FINALS
DANDENONG Rangers had to dig deep to finally put away Ballarat after a supreme SEABL finals come-back.
After a back-and-forth opening half, through the third term it appeared the Rangers would canter home after building an impressive 20-point lead on the back of starring efforts from Daequon Montreal (31 points), Lucas Walker (18 points and 12 rebounds) and Chuck Long (16 points, 9 rebounds).
But with the season on the line in a do-or-die SEABL elimination final, the Miners didn’t go down without a fight.
Battling foul trouble and Dandenong’s rampaging offence, Ballarat chipped away at the deficit as Roy Booker, Gregory Thondique and Everard Bartlett caused nothing but headaches down the stretch for the home side.
Dragging the gap back to four in the final term – 73-69 – it took the heroics of Long and Montreal to save the Rangers in the end.
Long reeled in a number of point-saving blocks, steals and rebounds – while Montreal smashed in his seventh 30-point haul of the season, spending a full 40 minutes on court.
Long’s five-point effort late in the fourth – with a match-defining block, before hitting the jumper coast-to-coast and the ensuring free throw – raised the bar once again to where the Miners could not strike.
Thondique’s reach-around block on a dunk-attemping Montreal left a tiny glimmer of hope in the Ballarat camp with a minute to go, but Dandenong calmly tightened the screws and shot out the match to advance.
“The game is always a game of runs – the momentum can shift,” Dandenong coach Darren Perry said.
“They had it in the first term, then we were down a few at quarter time, then we got a great second quarter run, finished the half well and looked like we were going to really do something in the third.
“But like all teams that make the finals, they (Ballarat) had a great run into the finals – they’ve hung tough and won games you thought they wouldn’t win – and they found a way to come back at us.”
Dandenong men head down the highway on Saturday night to face Geelong, with the winner through to the SEABL East Conference final against Albury-Wodonga.
Meanwhile the Rangers’ women had a far easier time, dispatching Geelong 78-68 to earn a place in the SEABL East Conference final.
While the Supercats had fired out of the blocks – taking a 38-36 lead at the half – Dandenong returned from the rooms with renewed confidence and clamped down on any of Geelong’s offensive forays.
Aimie Clydesdale (16 points) started off proceedings in the third term with an incredible chase-down steal on future WNBL team mate Sara Blicavs, before running the court and draining the three-pointer on the next play.
From there the Rangers’ outing steadily improved as Dandenong sunk 17-4 in the last five minutes of the third term to resoundingly claim the lead.
The mighty efforts of triple SEABL premiership winners Alison Downie (7 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) and Clare Papavs (13 points, 6 rebounds) shone through on the evening, with fellow champion Amelia Todhunter (17 points) stepping back up to her best.
Papavs relished her defensive role on Blicavs – clamping down on the Australian Opal and keeping her to 16 points.
Dandenong’s hustle set itself apart from Geelong as Rangers fought through the pressure to make its way back to the conference championship.
Coach Larissa Anderson put the win down to an almighty word.
“One word… defence,” Anderson said.
“That’s the only thing I spoke about at half-time.
“I’m never worried about our shots – even though I went off at them in that last bit as offensively we were getting rushes of blood to try and get on top when we needed to run it down – but that’s what we’re about.
“It was just about team defence and just energy and I thought the energy – Alison Downie in particular in that third quarter – was excellent.”
Dandenong will face the winner of Geelong and Nunawading in two weeks and Anderson implored the Rangers’ fans to get along and support their side in the conference final.
Keysborough hosted game one of the BIG V Division-2 Men’s grand final series against Western Port on Sunday afternoon after the Journal went to print.
For more on the match, visit the Dandenong Journal website www.starcommunity.com.au.