Storm chase on for Suns
THE Lismore Storm is set to cast a shadow over the Coffs Harbour Suns after stringing together a pair of NSW State Basketball League wins at the weekend.
Lismore's lady basketballers blew Ballina and Bellinger Valley away on successive nights to join the Suns at the top of Pool A and set up a pivotal clash at Coffs Harbour on Sunday.
With just five matches left in the regular season, and Lismore and Coffs the standout teams in the pool, the clash between the Storm and the Suns has great consequence.
The two premier teams will be favourites to deal with all other comers over the remaining games which mean their head-to-head clashes will decide who finishes the regular season on top.
The reward? A home semi-final.
But for the second-placed team, the first round of the finals means a long road trip south to take on a regional powerhouse – probably Shoalhaven or Central Coast.
The weekend's results enhanced Storm coach Mick Willemsen's faith for numerous reasons.
On Friday night his girls accounted for Ballina 81-62, then less than 24 hours later they travelled south with just seven players and crushed Bellinger Valley 88-44.
And they did it without the leagues' most prolific scorer, Tami Willey.
“It was a weekend where all the players had to step up,” Willemsen said.
“They showed me and, more importantly, they showed themselves that they can do it without Tami.”
The double-header also saw offensive weapon Jess Ward return to form.
The 17-year-old struggled to find her rhythm and confidence after returning from the national championships where she represented NSW Country, but it all came flooding back over the weekend as she top-scored with 25 points against Ballina then backed it up with 20 the following night.
Willemsen went into the Saturday night fixture concerned with how his short-handed young squad would deal with the back-up after a physical game with Ballina, but was pleasantly surprised.
“The girls showed great fortitude and proved me wrong to run away with the second match,” he said.
“I was so pleased with the result, not so much the margin but the attitude the girls displayed through the game battling fatigue, an undermanned bench and a tenacious Bellinger squad.
“It gives me great confidence, going into the big clash with Coffs, that we can reverse the result where they beat us in round one.”