CBL Conference Final Preview

SEVEN champions will be crowned on Saturday night.

It’s always a magnificent feeling heading into the Conference Final weekend as our best have earned the right to fight for the title.

There are some exceptional storylines as we get into the CBL Conference Finals for the 2018/19 season as newcomers, familiar faces, experts and rookies take the court for the ultimate CBL showdown.

CBL GIPPSLAND MEN’S CONFERENCE FINAL

MAFFRA v MOE
8PM, CAMERON SPORTING COMPLEX, MAFFRA

Back-to-back titles for the Meteors or can the Eagles take their maiden title? In this first versus third showdown, it’s clear to see there’s plenty on the line for these sides. Moe knows what it takes to lift the Gippsland Conference flag and those stars have continued a strong season’s work throughout 2018/19.

Seeing off Churchill on Saturday night, it was a defining semi-final victory for Moe and one they will take great strength form heading into the finale. With contributors up and down the roster – starting with the likes of Harry Pepper, Billy Bundle, Jayden Van Dyk and Simon Vannapraseuth – there is a lot to like throughout the Meteors’ contingent. In a particularly even competition, it’s certainly important to have a side with plenty in the tank.

Maffra comes off arguably the match of the season, heading into double overtime to see off a resilient Warragul. It was a gruelling affair that the Eagles will be pleased to put behind them. Those matches tend to bring out the best in a roster and when you can lean upon Andrew Quirk, Sam Whelan, Will Pleming and James Whelan to get the job done, it’s a fair luxury to have in this league. Playing for the pride of the Maffra uniform, at your home court in a Conference Final, this will be a thrilling moment for the Maffra basketball community. The Eagles have done everything right this season and only have one obstacle standing between them and the inaugural championship.

The home-town heroes or the defending champions? There’s only one way to find out!

CBL GIPPSLAND WOMEN’S CONFERENCE FINAL

KORUMBURRA v WARRAGUL
6PM – CAMERON SPORTING COMPLEX, MAFFRA

The undefeated versus the upstart challenger. Korumburra goes into this Conference Final with the form on the board and ready to finish the job. The Wildcats have defined this conference throughout 2018/19, dispatching everyone in their way as the likes of Chloe Hogg, Jamie Lee Jeffs, Loni Jeffs and Brylee Angwin continued their surge throughout the season. They’ve dialled in and have yet to leave a stone unturned in their pursuit of a title. It has been 10 seasons since they last claimed the championship, but they’ve made all the right moves necessary to break their drought.

On the other hand, the upstart Warragul line-up has impressed en route to the Conference Final. Turning mixed season form into a scintillating 85-54 semi-final win over long-time champions Traralgon, Warragul has earned the right to square off for the championship though grit and determination. Their stars have starred when it mattered most – Shanara Notman and Mikaela Dickson have led a one-two punch that has led offence with pride.  There is plenty across the board for the Warriors to turn towards, so it’s not just the one-two punch the Wildcats need to watch out for.

11-0 is an impressive form-line that Korumburra has certainly earned, but by no means is this final already won and done. Warragul has what it takes to create the biggest upset of the season, but will need to turn on the afterburners to get it done.

CBL SOUTH WEST MEN’S CONFERENCE FINAL

MT GAMBIER v BACCHUS MARSH
8PM – BLUEWATER LEISURE CENTRE, COLAC

Fairy-tale much?

There are a lot of things going for the Lions ahead of their inaugural Conference Final in its inaugural season. That’s a rare achievement and one that will go a long way towards invigorating the Bacchus Marsh brigade when taking the court on Saturday night. There’s plenty to like in the Lions’ pride. Billy Feben has dropped three-point bombs all over the region, while Jordan Kirk and Max Beaumont have equally impressive. There’s a lot of coverage throughout the line-up and Bacchus Marsh has squeezed every ounce of energy to get to the Conference Final. It would be an unbelievable story for the association, which took the plunge into CBL as it wants to expand its offering into senior ranks and potentially the winter competitions of Victoria in years to come. There aren’t many better ways to commence the rise into senior leagues than putting a banner in the rafters.

But Mt Gambier is a league powerhouse and has earned its place amongst the greats of the CBL competition. They’ve won five out of the last seven South West titles and seem well placed to make it six in eight. Making light work of Bellarine last weekend, the Lakers will be primed and ready for another tilt at the title as they make one last road trip this summer. Lachlan Hunter has impressed across the season while Kane de Wit has maintained his top billing amongst CBL stars with the work-rate of Braiden Ousey and Matthew Berkefeld also catapulting the side up the ladder. The split in strength goes well down the bench as the Lakers can turn to the likes of Simon Berkefeld and Samuel Stafford for added oomph. With these six men averaging more than double figures each game, it gives incredible versatility and flexibility to the line-up.

Is this David vs Goliath? Are the Lions set to tame the Lakers or will Mt Gambier continue on its merry ways without fuss or fear? Whichever storyline pans out, it’s clear the South West has put up an incredibly entertaining season and will do so once again in the finale.

CBL SOUTH WEST WOMEN’S CONFERENCE FINAL

MILLICENT v GEELONG
6PM – BLUEWATER LEISURE CENTRE, COLAC

Three v four. An ultimate under-dog story or two elite sides getting it done at the right time of the season? It’s certainly been an interesting season across the South West Women’s conference as Millicent missed a home final by a whisker, only to surge past Horsham and take its place in the finale anyway. Geelong knocked over the highly fancied Portland last weekend to showcase its rise at the right moment, moving into the Conference Final to take on the mighty Magic this Saturday.

Millicent has lived up to its moniker through the magical efforts of Olivia Fuller and Emily Winter. But even when the roster has had to rotate, the full bench has kept the pressure up. It is an exceptional roster and one that’s taken the step up this season, having lost in last year’s semi-final by two points to Portland.

Geelong is young, fun and incredibly energetic to watch. With plenty of talent from Georgia Varley, Chloe Skinner and Alannah Northam, there is plenty to like from their up-tempo game-play. The Supercats are yet another side with talent to spread as the roster has endured availability throughout the year and made the most of these opportunities. With 14 players having suited up this season, they have done whatever it took to get the victory and enabled the Supercats the chance to defend their championship. There is plenty on the line and plenty of threads to come together for this Conference Final. Can not wait.

CBL NORTH EAST MEN’S CONFERENCE FINAL

WALLAN v WODONGA
8PM – BENDIGO STADIUM

Then there were two.

The North East Men’s showdown is upon us as Basketball Victoria Country tips off an amazing night of Conference Finals with the battle between the Panthers and Wolves. 

Wallan and Wodonga have booked their Conference Final places after claiming a pair of amazing coups, taking down powerhouse sides Shepparton and Seymour.

It took everything in the tank for the Wolves to shoo away the Blasters in an 80-79 thriller at home. The roof was lifted every time

Wodonga’s three-point maestro Deba George has flourished in the run towards finals, knocking in 30-point tallies in the last four outings. Since joining the Wolves in October the CBL has been a happy hunting ground for the illustrious shooting guard as he’s racked up 27.33 points per game and enabled Wodonga’s rapid rise up the table.

From fourth place, Wallan has earned its spot in the North East Men’s Grand Final after an emphatic 70-48 triumph over the minor champions Shepparton. It was an impressive barrage led by 16-point hauls to Luke Liesegang, Max Viitala and Lincoln Stewart. They’ve made an impact at the right point of the season, as the Panthers have flown into the finale.

The strength of the Panthers has been their versatility with everyone chipping in at the crunch moments. When reigning MVP Viitala or Stewart would rest there was plenty left to carry on through the likes of Jordan Paul, Lachlan Rae and some strong performers off the bench to boot. From a 6-6 season, the Panthers have shone when it matters most as they look towards Saturday night and one last challenge.

Wallan and Wodonga have split their encounters this season, with Wodonga taking the hometown points to start the season 85-62, while Wallan roused a Round 11 triumph 71-58 at home.

Viitala and Stewart got away from the Wolves’ defence early in their latest showdown… but then again there was no George. How much impact can you place on one man’s shoulders? It’s always difficult to ascertain, but when you have a man launching treys at will, including a whopping nine threes against Myrtleford earlier this year, it’s certainly a major factor.

Can Wallan make the almighty comeback and take the title from fourth, or will the higher-ranked Wodonga continue its three-point barrage en route to the North East Men’s championship? Wodonga last hoisted the pennant on 2014/15 season, but Wallan will be keen to claim the first crown. It certainly makes for an entertaining battle across the floor and down the roster.

NORTH WEST WOMEN’S CONFERENCE GRAND FINAL

BENDIGO v WODONGA
6PM – BENDIGO STADIUM

Perennial rivals meet again in the final showdown of an entertaining North West Women’s season.

With the North West and North East brought together in season 2018/19, it gives Bendigo Braves and Wodonga Wolves fans a chance to sink their teeth into another thrilling battle at the pinnacle of the Country year.

Mel Kirby chucked the task at hand on her shoulder and delivered a powerhouse performance to seal a 64-56 triumph for Wodonga over Swan Hill. With only six available for the trip, it was a teeth-gritting performance that cannot be overlooked. In league with Breanna Green and Charlotte Beaven, the Wolves made the most of their chance on the road to book a place in the Championship decider. There is a lot of firepower in the Wolves roster when you look to Vic Country representative Casey Ardern, who loves to flay sides from either the three-point line or slashing straight to the basket, as well as the cavalcade of strong up-and-coming talent in the roster.

But then again… a back-to-back champion makes its presence felt no matter what the circumstance. Bendigo earned its spot on the home show-court with an emphatic 77-59 victory over Kyneton on the weekend as Danielle O’Toole, Keisha Tonzing and Poppy Blanch made the most of the semi-final spotlight. Bendigo has been a juggernaut of this competition and continues to pump out elite standards, strong rosters and the results to back that up. Danielle O’Toole, Tess Barnes, Sharna Appleby, Hayley Harrington and Keisha Tonzing – all have taken the spotlight and all have thrived when it mattered most. The Braves have been phenomenal across the season with a roster full of talent.

Their sole meeting this year was a one-sided affair as Bendigo dictated terms from the get-go in a 90-62 demolition. Wodonga once again travelled lean and didn’t have the full complement in its arsenal to choose from. With a full bench and the lure of a Conference Championship to hang up at home, there won’t be any such reason to hold the Wolves back.

It will be a thriller in every sense of the word. It is definitely a clash befitting of such an occasion with a number of storylines yet to be unveiled.

Can the Braves make it three on the trot or is it time for Wodonga to take the North East championship back? You’ll have to find out on Saturday.

NORTH WEST MEN’S CONFERENCE GRAND FINAL

ECHUCA v MILDURA
4PM – BENDIGO STADIUM

The top seeds booked their spots in the Conference Final with emphatic wins over the weekend. It sets the stage for two of our furthest flung sides in the North West Conference battling it out to take the title. The supporter buses will be full to the brim as Mildura and Echuca square off for the title.

Echuca enters the battle looking to take out its first title. Knocking over Bendigo in style in front of a packed home-court on Saturday night, Echuca looked every part a championship team as it knocked over Bendigo 75-69. The likes of Luke Rosendale and Liam Tenace have been almighty when the time came while Tyler Phillips and Dan Newman have worked to keep the offence ticking on those occasions the full roster couldn’t be assembled. It is a sign of a strong side when the pieces are interchangeable but the effort, work-rate and result remain the same.

Life in CBL hasn’t always been easy for the Pirates, but the determination and grit of this year’s roster has been a sight to behold. Slaying giants, moving mountains – whatever simile you wish to judge them by… they have delivered. Any side that knocks over the likes of Bendigo, Maryborough and Castlemaine in an even competition such as this one definitely holds sway.

But Mildura isn’t going to let the fairy-tale fall to Echuca without a fight. The Heat took a thrilling clash over Maryborough at home on Saturday. It was an extraordinary victory for Mildura and a great showcase of its full potential and just what will come down the highway to battle the Pirates. When you can flex across the roster with Dallas Brown, Jay Madigan and Zane Lueth creating opportunities under the basket and across the floor.

They’ve squared off twice this season and Echuca has taken them both in quite different circumstances. The comfortable Round 6 result or the narrow Round 12 triumph… either way Mildura will look to shut down that rampage and ensure the Heat supporters have something spectacular to bring back onto the bus.

Mildura’s senior men are returning to the championship arena and will hope to go one better than its Big V Division 2 Men’s campaign, which was abruptly ended by Coburg.

It’ll be a case of acclimatising quickly to the showcourt and seeing just who rises to the occasion. But this will certainly be a showpiece game deserving of the finale on the evening’s card.

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