Overcoming the formidable Jayco Southside Flyers proved one step too far for the JCU Townsville Fire, but the future looks bright for the vanquished Chemist Warehouse WNBL grand finalists.
A loud and partisan Townsville Stadium crowd roared their lungs out, but ultimately the class and depth of the talent-stacked Flyers wore down a brave Fire side in Sunday’s season decider.
Level at quarter time and trailing by two at the half, Townsville fell ten behind at three-quarter time and lost 99-82.
They got Flyers’ powerhouse Liz Cambage into foul trouble limiting her to 14 points in 15 minutes.
But their semi-final nemeses Leilani Mitchell and Bec Cole again proved too hard to control, scoring 31 and 22 respectively, with both shooting around 70 per cent from the field.
“We’re obviously disappointed and we felt we had opportunities probably to get that even though the margin ended up the way it did,” Fire coach Shannon Seebohm said.
Perhaps the extra exertions of winning a tough semi-final less than 48 hours earlier took their toll of the Fire.
Indefatigable Fire guard Lauren Nicholson played almost 38 minutes after being on court for every second of the semi and preliminary final’s.
She added 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists to a huge body of work over the season.
Southside limited the influence of rising star Shyla Heal, who scored 30 and 28 in the semi-final and preliminary final respectively.
The 19-year-old point guard never stopped trying but was held to 11 points on four of 18 shooting from the field and missed all five of her three-point attempts.
Nadeen Payne scored 14 and captain Mia Murray, who has yet to decide whether she will play on next season after returning following a two-year break, scored 11.
Despite the defeat Murray and Seebohm were bullish about the Fire’s future.
“We’ve had one heck of a season and just looking at these younger faces we’re going to see a lot more of you in the future,” Murray said.
With coach of the year Seebohm recently re-signing until 2024, the challenge is for him to retain the nucleus of a rebuilt squad, which helped lift Townsville to the grand final after they finished bottom last season.
“The season we’ve had, coming back from finishing bottom last year to making the grand final is a really big step forward for us,” Seebohm said.
“Now I think we just have to continue to hopefully keep the core of this group together and continue to build and hopefully be back here again next year.
“We’re the youngest team in the competition and I think getting experience in playing games like this for some our players is invaluable and know they are going learn a lot from this experience.”
The match couldn’t have started much better for Townsville, with them sprinting to an 8-2 lead and Cambage picking up two fouls in just over three minutes and spending the rest of the half on the bench.
Townsville hung in doggedly in the first half despite Mitchell racking up 21 points and the Fire missing their first eight three-point attempts.
Cambage picked up a third foul and missed a shot inside the first 30 seconds of the third quarter but scored six of her team’s next seven points and 12 in the quarter, which ended with Southside up by ten.
She picked up a fourth foul inside the first 20 seconds of the last and went straight to the bench and Murray nailed a three-pointer to cut the deficit to seven, with over nine minutes to go.
Even with Cambage on the bench, Townsville couldn’t defuse the Flyers other weapons.
Adrian Warren is a freelance contributor to WNBL.basketball
Jayco Southside Flyers 99 (L Mitchell 31, R Cole 22, L Cambage 14)
JCU Townsville Fire 82 (L NIcholson 20, N Payne 14, S Heal 11, M Murray 11)
Crowd figure – 1825