Rockingham Flames women’s focus switches to Perry Lakes after come-from-behind win over Mandurah

Stuart HortonSound Telegraph
Alex Ciabbattoni had a big impact on the scoreboard in the Flames win over Mandurah.
Camera IconAlex Ciabbattoni had a big impact on the scoreboard in the Flames win over Mandurah. Credit: Stuart Horton

As far as come-from-behind wins go, you’ll be hard pressed to find one in WA sports in 2019 better than the Rockingham Flames women’s victory over Mandurah Magic last Saturday night.

Trailing by 12 points at three-quarter time and facing a trip to Mandurah the following day for a game three decider, the Flames flicked a switch in the final 10 minutes to swing a 44-56 deficit into a 65-64 win.

While coach Keegan Crawford was more than happy his players pulled the result from the fire, he was quick to send a reminder that making the semifinals was not the ultimate goal for this Flames team.

“We have a senior group so they were obviously pretty happy getting a win and moving to the semifinal series, but their focus changed very quickly because our end goal is a championship,” he said.

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“I think it’s good to move on pretty quickly. It’s great to have those kinds of wins but it’s not the goal we want to achieve.

“We shifted focus from being happy to being really determined to take out Perry Lakes.”

The Flames scored the first basket of the game after 41 seconds but didn’t hold a lead again until the seventh minute of the final quarter, trailing at the breaks by two, 12 and 12 points respectively.

Not content with finding just their scoring touch under the pump, the Flames defence also pressured Mandurah into a number of turnovers, including a shot-clock violation in the final two minutes, and a host of missed shots.

Crawford said by the time the Flames went ahead with a little more than three minutes left on the clock all the momentum was with his team and he attributed the turnaround to his players’ application at training.

“We changed up our offence and placed an emphasis on our spacing, but at the three-quarter time break we talked to the girls and said it was just like a situational drill,” he said.

“At practice we routinely train game situations where one team is down by eight or 10 and they have to come back, so we have a style to play when we’re down and we stuck to that style and it really paid off for us.”

Magic veteran Casey Mihovilovich hit a three-pointer with about 90 seconds to play to put Mandurah back ahead by three but Alex Ciabbatoni and then Maddie Allen - with 11 seconds on the clock - added baskets to put the Flames up 65-64.

A couple of quick tactical fouls left Mandurah nine seconds to find a winner but Chelsea Petrik’s defensive pressure and then Kelly Bailey’s missed shot saw the Rockingham bench joyously spill onto the court as the buzzer sounded.

Ciabbattoni and Allen led the scoring with 21 and 19 respectively — Allen added 11 rebounds and four blocks — and Chris Boag played a big role defensively with 10 of her 11 rebounds coming at the defensive end.

Opals’ hopeful Darcee Garbin’s 12 points was a quiet return by her high standards, but Crawford saw that as a positive as it showed his team’s resolve and that they could “play like that and still get away with a gritty win”.

“Mandurah is a tough one. If you go back through the history of the two teams, the games are always scrappy and ugly and it’s not pretty basketball,” he said.

“They really take us out of what we want to do and we do the same to them, and it just comes down to who wants it more in the end. It showed that we really wanted it in that last quarter.

“We definitely had some girls who played well and stepped up - Maddie and Alex are great examples of that, but Ari Hetherington was great off the bench in limited minutes.

“We look across the board and we’re really happy with how we’re tracking and what we can get out of our girls.”

The victory sets up a semifinal match-up with Perry Lakes Hawks, who recorded two emphatic victories to knock out third-placed Joondalup in their quarterfinal series.

Crawford believes the two sides are evenly matched and the Flames will need to lift their defensive intensity if they are to progress to a first grand final appearance since 2015.

“They’re a very good basketball team and they’re very similar to us in some of their key players have come in halfway through the season in Megan (McKay) and Nat (Burton),” he said.

“Joondalup were a little undermanned but that takes nothing away from Perry Lakes, they were fantastic.

“We match up evenly, stylistically they’re very similar to us. I think it’s going to be a very different semifinal series, style of play-wise, than both of our quarterfinals were.

“It’s not going to be super physical because we’re both very big, but I think it’s going to be a little more polished.

“It’s going to be won and lost by our girls being switched onto the game plan and being able to win the little one per cent battles, taking their bigs off the boards, staying composed with the basketball and applying pressure.”

The Flames play Perry Lakes Hawks at Bendat Basketball Centre on Friday at 7pm in game 1, with game 2 at Mike Barnett Sports Complex on Friday August 23. If required, game 3 will be at Bendat Basketball Centre on Saturday August 24.

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