WNBL finalists decided as Fire crush Spirit

IT took just one match in Round 16 of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) to determine the fourth placed side in this year’s finals series. Needing to upset the top team, Bendigo Spirit had one last roll of the dice against Townsville Fire, with the victory needing to be accompanied by back-to-back losses to Perth Lynx. Unfortunately for Bendigo, the former failed to happen, sealing the Spirit’s fate.

Townsville face off against Southside Flyers later in the round in a top of the table clash, but the Fire had to deal with a backs-against-the-wall Spirit outfit first. Bendigo had lost five on the trot, while Townsville entered the first match of the last round on a red-hot 10-game winning streak.

That streak looked to continue early as the Fire piled on 28 points to 21 in the first 10 minutes. Though it had been a high-scoring opening term, that changed in the second as the Fire restricted the Spirit to just 13 points, and stretched the margin to double-digits. The final nail in the coffin came in the third term when Townsville scored 27 points to 13 to open up a massive 25-point lead.

Though both teams scored 17 points in the final term, the work Townsville had already done, had set up the victory. Making it 11 wins on the trot, the Fire will set their sights on the Flyers in an epic contest this weekend.

As has been the case more often than not, Townsville shared the points around with Tianna Hawkins – fresh off her Round 15 match-winning basket – top scoring with 19 points. She also collected five rebounds and two assists, shooting at 60 per cent from the field. Karlie Samuelson (15 points) was incredible from inside the arc with six of seven, while Courtney Woods ahd 16 points – at a 58 per cent clip – as well as three rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Steph Reid (11 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals) was the fourth player to hit double-figure points in the win, while Mikaela Ruef was enormous off the boards with 15 rebounds to accompany nine points and five assists. In a promising sign, late-season recruit Shyla Heal played 27 minutes – the most in a Townsville jersey this season – for nine points and two rebounds.

Bendigo Spirit had their usual contributors with Anneli Maley managing 14 points, but at just 23 per cent from the field, and only picking up three rebounds. The work off the boards was left to Alicia Froling (10 points, seven rebounds) and Alex Wilson (12 points, seven rebounds).

The result marks the end of Bendigo’s season, which showed so much promise early, but ultimately finished with six consecutive losses. Townsville will collect the minor premiership regardless of result against the second placed Flyers on the weekend.

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