Pouakai wins thriller; secures third spot

THE Tauihi Basketball Aotearoa finals series matchup are locked in despite a couple of regular season matches to go, following Mainland Pouakai‘s thrilling victory over Mid-North Whai. The Whai were in with a chance to snatch third spot had they won this match, and did have great form over the Pouakai, defeating them in their previous two encounters. However, despite an incredible third term to come from behind and draw level at the final break, they could not finish the job as the Pouakai won the last quarter and secured the three-point win, 71-68.

MID-NORTH WHAI 21 | 11 | 24 | 12 (68)
MAINLAND POUAKAI 19 | 24 | 13 | 15 (71)

In a match that could have decided the exact semi-final matchups, two sides that were keen to avoid top side Northern Kahu needed to win to ensure just that. While the Kahu had lost to the Tokomanawa Queens for the second successive time the night before, neither the Whai nor Pouakai had been able to achieve the feat. In what was going to be the first of two games in the final round for both sides, the winner would effectively play the Queens – barring surprise results on Sunday – while the loser would be sentenced to play the Kahu in the first knockout final.

The match was one that proved quite unpredictable at times, with both teams holding comfortable leads at different points, and fans unsure of which way it might go. The Whai raced out of the blocks to have a strong first term, leading by as much as nine points at one stage, with Esra McGoldrick dominating for the home side. Stepping up to the play was Pouakai late season inclusion Jailin Cherry who hit double-digits to match McGoldrick for scoring, as the Pouakai closed the deficit back to two points at the first break.

A dominant second stanza for the away team saw them shut down the Whai’s offence, restricting the fourth placed side to just 11 points as Cherry, Erin Whalen and Tessa Boagni were sending daggers from deep and working hard on defence, to help their side out to an 11-point buffer at half-time. The third quarter was the polar opposite of its predecessor, with the Whai scoring 24-13 and pulling in that deficit to hit the final break all square again. Kendell Heremaia got her side up and about rom range, as Kyra Lambert got back on top.

The Whai had to shuffle the magnets with Sheniqua Greene sent to the bench after a stray elbow to Boagni saw both coming off the court; Boagni for the knock, and Greene with her fourth foul, while the Pouakai would also lose the red-hot Cherry to an ankle injury. In the meantime though, despite clawing back to be level at the final break, the job was not done. A triple from Sharne Robati and successful free throws from Lambert put the lead out to five points, and when Heremaia hit yet another long-range bomb at the three-minute mark, the Whai were up and about.

From that point on though, the Pouakai would go on a 13-point scoring streak lead by Trinity Baptiste and Whalen to put the lead right out to seven points themselves with 2:34 on the clock. Remarkably, despite not scoring in that time, baskets from Heremaia and Lambert would not be enough as the Whai only closed the deficit to three points, with both missing chances in the dying seconds – after a shot clock violation handed them the ball for the last play – and the Pouakai came away with the 71-68 victory.

Baptiste stood up when Cherry went off to finish with 21 points, eight rebounds and two steals, while Cherry – off 22 minutes on court – helped herself to 18 point and two rebounds,. Boagni (15 points, eight rebounds and three of five from long-range) and Whalen (12 points, nine rebounds and two assists) both contributed strongly. Heremaia was deadly from range, putting up five of nine on her way to 17 points and five rebounds for the Whai. Lambert came close to a triple-double thanks to her 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, while McGoldrick (14 points, four rebounds and three assists) did her best work early.

Mainland Pouakai finish off their season up against minor premiers Northern Kahu tomorrow, while Mid-North Whai lock horns with last placed Southern Hoiho.

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