Braves claim Country League double crowns
IT was all smiles in Maryborough on Saturday night as the Bendigo Braves men and women Country League sides both raised North West Division premiership trophies.
Tipping off in the early 5pm slot, the women’s side went up against the Kyneton Tigers and eventually came away with a 73-50 win, although Braves coach Bianca Dufelmeier said the game was closer than the final score line suggested.
“We actually lost the first quarter,” she said. “It was 20 to 19 for Kyneton, they came out guns blazing, shot and moved the ball really well. We, unfortunately, were not connecting the way Kyneton were.”
After a reset at the end of the first period the Braves responded with a strong start to the second, holding Kyneton scoreless until the last two minutes of the quarter.
But it wasn’t over as the Tigers lifted again after the long break, going on an 11-2 run, only for Bendigo to reset for a second time before seeing out the match.
“It’s really hard to do everything right for the 40 minutes of the game clock,” Dufelmeier said. “But they answered, they changed what they needed to do, and took some ownership and responsibility.
“It’s really nice to have a team that figured it out and were able to grind away and get back on top.”
Sharna Appleby had a strong game with 23 points including five threes, while game MVP Madeline Sexton wasn’t far back, sinking 19.
“Sharna Appleby was our little diamond in the rough,” Dufelmeier said. “She really held us together and got us over the line.
“She hit big points, had big stops, and big defensive plays down the stretch when we needed them.
“Another quiet achiever was Sophie Perkins, who hasn’t scored a lot this season but done a lot of the off-ball stuff that you don’t see on the stat line, but she came out and hit back-to-back-to-back points.”
The win means repeat country league titles for the Braves and two MVPs in a row for Sexton.
When the men’s game got underway it was a rematch of last season, albeit with home court advantage flipped as the Braves took on the Maryborough Blazers on their home turf.
In front of an amped up crowd, Bendigo was forced to deal with on and off court challenges, but got the job done by a 64-53 margin.
The Blazers took a quick early lead, before the Braves dropped the hammer, up 37-19 at the half, although Maryborough came with the push back, only for Bendigo to see off the challenge.
“It was a very physical game, physically demanding on both sides,” said Braves coach Clayton Bell.
“They came back pretty hard late in the third and in the first few minutes of the fourth-quarter.
“We knew they would always come back at us. So we were expecting that and kept trying to drum that home to the boys that’ll be making another couple of runs at us.”
Contributions came from all over the roster with Jack White sinking a game high 18 points, including four critical threes to hold the Blazers’ comeback at bay.
Game MVP Trent Leech was not far behind with 17 points that came on top of his task marking Maryborough’s best in Brady Neill.
“He [Leech] had a defensive assignment, and kept him to 14 points,” said Bell. “To be able to do that against a quality player and then score himself at the other end, you can easily see why he was the MVP.”
Jake Lloyd was also a key contributor with 12 points, three from the free-throw line, two inside the arc and one three.
With a range of contributors across the roster, Bell said the squad has been lucky that many have been able to pitch in.
“We’ve been fortunate during the year as we’ve generally had a good spread of scoring,” he said.
With the shortened Country League season coming to an end, many of the players on both the men’s and women’s rosters will now be looking towards Big-V – which starts this weekend – and NBL1 South action set to get underway in mid-April.