SEABL Men – Round 18 Report

The dramas started on Friday night when the North-West Tasmanian Thunder were told their early morning flight was cancelled.

They knew it would add a bus drive to their day and an afternoon flight from Launceston to Melbourne followed by a long ride across the city to Dandenong Rangers for a Saturday night game to end their regular season.

For Tasmania travelers it is not a big deal and for a side locked into fourth place it didn’t seem too bad.

But the game was still a vital one to the conference standings with the Rangers needing a win to remain in first place.

But then that 2pm flight was cancelled due to mechanical problems.

Suddenly the Thunder faced the likelihood of their game being cancelled or forfeited but that in the words of captain Brad Simpson, “that is not how we roll”.

“There was talk of us just staying at home and forfeiting the game but that’s not how we have rolled this year,” Simpson said.

“From 1-6 [win-loss] to where we have got to now it has been a credit to everyone involved in the club.”

So the team took a 6.15pm flight and amid a flurry of phone calls between the two clubs and the league their game was pushed back to a 9pm tip-off.

Thunder coach Sam Armstrong described it best.

“That left us with a 6.15pm flight out of Launceston which left at 6.30pm,” Armstrong said.

“Then it was land, drive here and play.

“We did our pregame on the bus, we stretched on the bus, we changed on the bus – we did everything we possibly could on the bus.

“It was pretty busy in there.”

The Thunder’s mini van arrived at Dandenong at 8.50pm and the team ran straight into warm-ups but the Rangers looked primed to handle business and stop Hobart or Ballarat finishing above them.

But from the tip-off the Thunder didn’t look like a team who had been travelling all day nor a side who was going to give up easily.

Ahmad Starks, Daniel Sepokas, Ben Richmond and Jeremaih Ingram all found points while centre Chundier Pal was a difference maker in the first term before foul trouble all but ended his night.

At quarter time the Thunder led 27-20 but defensive lapses cost them badly in the second term which left them trailing at half time although Richmond’s tip in on the buzzer cut that lead to 48-47.

It looked anyone’s game in the third term as former Thunder import Garrett Jackson and heady point guard Lucas Barker attacked the basket but with Richmond again scoring just before three quarter time the game was tied 65-65.

Considering the Thunder had been on the road since 8.15am that morning, mental and physical fatigue should have been a factor in the final term but it never came into the equation.

The Thunder threw teenagers Tre Armstrong and Brady Armstrong into start the final term and their side flew out of the blocks with Starks making big plays in a 7-0 run which led to a Rangers time out.

With the home side’s defence lifting, Tre Armstrong knocked down his only points of the night from way behind the three-point line to take the lead to 10 points.

From there the Thunder stormed home with Starks at the heart of their best plays and several players getting layups as the Rangers went to a full court press.

Starks’ 31-points and 11 assists led the Thunder to a 108-97 win which pushed the Rangers to third place.

Remarkably the two clubs will face off at the same location in this weekend’s elimination semi final.

Armstrong praised Starks performance when speaking after the game which ended at just after 10.30pm on Saturday night.

“Our 17 and 18 year old off the bench gave us a spark and let us rest a few players too,” Armstrong said.

“Tre’s three came right at a crucial time, that put us ten points up, those guys can do that and they got a couple of good steals as well.”

Armstrong added that the Thunder were never going to concede the game as they wanted to keep winning.

“We have spoken all week about this being the start of our finals series, there is no better preparation than playing the team on top of our conference,” Armstrong said.

“We used this game to harden ourselves for finals basketball and we did that tonight.

“Ahmad has been able to do that [score] for us all year but he has had 11 assists tonight and that’s more so what it is going to take to win in finals as he is going to get a lot of attention.

“If he can get others involved it will be really good for us.”

The Rangers will be fired up to get some payback in the semi final and the Thunder know they will have to be ready for an even harder clash this time.

“Our home form has been ordinary but we don’t have to play at home anymore – we have come together on the road and really gelled as a team,” Simpson said.

“We have got that confidence and belief we can go anywhere and be competitive and get the win.

“It’s a funny feeling as we will be back here next week but it wasn’t like we have won a grand final tonight or anything, it was just a bit of shock with how it happened.

“We are ready for next week.”

The team is already assessing their travel plans this week with local journalist Brad Cole offering Simpson and the team a more reliable route back to Melbourne.

“Coley messaged me and said we should book the Spirit of Tasmania [ferry] on Friday night to come over so we don’t have to take any more flights,” Simpson said with a laugh.

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