2018 National Junior Classic champions crowned

ANOTHER eight star-studded Classic teams etched their names into our history-books over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

NATIONAL JUNIOR CLASSIC – GRAND FINAL REVIEW

Forestville’s under-18 girls were the only interstate team to take a Classic title away from Victoria while Bendigo, Bulleen, Eltham, Nunawading and Melbourne surged to claim success in their respective competitions.

For now it’s back to MUVJBL VC for these Victorian-based Classic winners as we head straight into the second half of the season and search for our season champions.

Congratulations to all our 128 teams that participated in the National Junior Classic as well as the coaches, referees, managers, friends and family members who made this event a phenomenal success.

Melbourne Under-18 boys

UNDER-18 BOYS

Melbourne Tigers defeated the Kilsyth Cobras 66-55, to capture the Under-18s Classic title to finish a stellar long weekend at the State Basketball Centre.

Led by Grand Final Final MVP Josh Giddey, who scored a game-high 17 points, Melbourne captured their first under-18 boys Classic title since 2014.

The Tigers started aggressively and took the game on from the tip-off. Their attacking style of play paid off quickly as they build a nine-point lead through the opening term.

Melbourne went on to show its strength and continued to build its lead early in the second quarter courtesy of its twin towers – Michael Alfirenko (16 points) and Paul Tsapatolis (six points)  .

The Tigers’ tandem dominated the boards in the early contest earning Melbourne second and third chances at the basket, building the lead to as many 12 points.

Needing a lift to keep in it, Kilsyth found it from Thomas Galway off the bench. Shining in the Classic spotlight, the Cobras inserted the seldom used centre. Charged with the daunting task of attempting to nullify Melbourne’s dangerous big men, Galway showed he was ready. The back-up big man gave the Cobras some much needed energy, forcing contests at the rim, pulling down crucial rebounds and even putting in baskets himself to spark a fightback.

While Galway heated up inside, Harrison Bowater fired for the Cobras at the perimeter. His two contested jumpers saw the Cobras slash the margin four points at the main break.

Melbourne Tigers head coach David Peters lost his voice yelling at his charges to recommit to the defensive intensity which had earned them lead in the first quarter.

After the break, Melbourne was able to end the Cobras momentum swing for good.

After sitting for much of the second quarter, Giddey returned to the court and the swingman immediately impacted the contest. Driving to the rim, drawing fouls, getting to the line, dishing to open teammates… Giddey was in complete control of the match.

After a solid tournament, the Tigers star saved his best for when his team needed it the most as he dominated the second half to help Melbourne take the title.

Giddey capped off the impressive performance with a delicious bounce pass through traffic drawing applause from the packed grandstand on centre court.

It was a brilliant way to conclude the tournament from a powerhouse Melbourne side.

Forestville U18 girls

UNDER-18 GIRLS

Forestville surged past Hawthorn 56-45 to win its second consecutive under-18 girls Classic title.

Led by the 22-point MVP performance of Ambah Kowcun and Gabriella Vidmar (18 points), the Eagles dominated the contest from the tip-off. The Magic will rue the opening quarter which saw the Eagles fly away to a 23-point lead. Despite the best efforts from Hawthorn – and its Victoria Metropolitan stars Sara-Rose Smith and Lara Edmanson – it was a margin the Magic couldn’t claw back.

Lacking the intensity need for the contest and taken aback by Forestville’s defensive pressure, Hawthorn became predictable in attack forcing everything towards the rim.

The Eagles continued to swoop in for steals, compiling the problems for the Magic.

Hawthorn head coach Scott Delzoppo pleaded with his team to lift before the half-time break especially as Kowcun took her first rest of the match.

The Magic responded as the side ramped up its defensive pressure heading towards the main break. With Kowcun sitting, the Eagles couldn’t break through the Magic defence, as Hawthorn preyed on theses miscues breaking out for uncontested layups with the Magic finally showing the ferocity they had played with over the weekend.

The Magic reduced the deficit to 13 points with a great performance from Lily Davies. Davies was the Magic’s best player, hitting four three-pointers as she finished with 12 points in the match. The Magic looked to keep the momentum going, but they struggled to find the right response when Kowcun checked back in to the contest.

The South Australia/Northern Territory representative guard continued to dominate on both ends. Blocking three-point attempts and strip stealing the Magic guards leading to open fast breaks, before nailing a three-pointer to cap off her impressive performance.

All told it was an emphatic tournament performance from Forestville, which continue to a be a powerhouse in Australian girls’ basketball.

bendigo U16 boys

UNDER-16 BOYS

Bendigo claimed the Under-16 boys Classic title with a 71-52 demolition of Hills Hornets at the State Basketball Centre.

Led by guard Dyson Daniels – who starred in an incredible 34-point MVP performance, – the Braves shone to capture Bendigo’s second ever Classic title. Daniels set the tone for the Braves early as he poured in 12 first quarter points, leading the rout of the visiting Hornets. The siren couldn’t sound fast enough to end the Hornets’ miserable opening term as they trailed by 16 points.

Bendigo’s intensity in the grand final was in complete contrast to its first match of the tournament, when the side was manhandled by this same Hornets team.

That loss was the wake-up call Bendigo needed according to head coach Ben McCauley, as it made the side change its style for the rest of the weekend.

“This team scored 88 points against us the first time we played them,” McCauley said. “But we changed how we went about it… we did something simple and played defence.

“Our group has no trouble scoring, we needed to play defence and we did.”

Bendigo upped its defensive intensity from the tip-off in the rematch, working harder on the defensive glass, limiting possessions and ultimately putting the Hornets on the backfoot.

The Hornets turned to their star guard Eion Fitzgerald to provide any respite. Fitzgerald was a dangerous threat from the perimeter and gave everything he had for the Hornets in the loss. The Hornets guard had been the player of the tournament, averaging 30 points per contest in the lead-up to the grand final. Despite Fitzgerald’s 27 points, with an incredible seven three-pointers, it wasn’t enough to keep the Hornets flickering hopes for victory alive.

The Braves had an answer for every Hills advance.

Braves centre Jackson Fletcher continued his phenomenal tournament as he dominated the glass on both ends.

The Braves big man secured rebounds over the top of the Hornets smaller defenders, kept possessions alive and limited the Hills chances of reducing the ballooning lead.

Hills controlled the ball in the back end of the game, but the opening half damage had been done and paved the way for Bendigo’s monumental triumph.

Nunawading U16 girls

UNDER-16 GIRLS 

Nunawading has claimed a literal classic at the Classic, taking a 42-39 win over Melbourne to capture the Under 16 girls’ title.

The Spectres trailed all game and were down by nine points during a tense final term… but they stuck to the challenge and made a stellar comeback. An incredible defensive display from Nunawading in the fourth quarter managed to hold back the Tigers’ high powered offence.

The amazing defensive effort sparked a barrage of fast break baskets, which proved to be the difference in the Spectres’ hard fought victory.

Earning Nunawading ‘s first Classic title since 2013, and the Club’s tenth under 16 girls’ banner, given the Spectres position heading into the final minutes, this might be one of the best of them all.

“I always had faith in my girls,” Nunawading head coach Jaysn Harvey said. “I knew as long as we followed our defensive rules we would be alright… it just clicked in the final quarter.”

Nunawading’s defence had been stellar through their unblemished tournament play, containing opponents to a 36.2 points per contest, but they had their jobs cut out for them as Melbourne playmaker Tylah Hooper exploded in the first half. She torched the Spectres defence for 15 first-half points and it wasn’t until Final MVP Luisa Fakalata (13 points) took it upon herself to contain Hooper that the match began to turn in the Spectres favour.

Fakalata was able to restrict Hooper’s influence on the game, holding the star Tigers guard to only the lone basket in second half.

While Fakalata’s work at the point led the way for Nunawading offensively, it was her defence which helped seal the Classic.

Harvey pleaded for his team to lift on the defensive end coming out the half-time break. The Spectres responded with Fakalata on the perimeter and Neave Hancock-Wolfe in the middle of Nunawading’s shifting zone.

The forward deflected passes and grabbed rebounds, sparking fast breaks as Nunawading took the lead in the final moments and held on down the stretch.

After playing six games over the weekend, the players’ legs were burning with both teams running on adrenaline. In the end the Spectres shone in front of the grandstand crowd to take out one of the best matches of the tournament.

Eltham u14 boys

UNDER-14 BOYS

Eltham’s junior boys added another accolade to the trophy cabinet with a 57-44 victory over Nunawading.

Kristian Ferronato (20 points) excelled throughout the clash as he pushed the tempo and created havoc. In league with Emett Wise (15 points) – who stripped the ball for a couple of early end-to-end lay-ups – the Eltham boys built an early buffer and threw down the gauntlet to Nunawading.

Matthew Mcwilliams (11 points), Tiernan Stynes (10 points) and Billy Hicks (eight points) kept the Spectres hopes alive with some excellent offensive work. Nunawading fought back and began to take charge and create a lot of pressure for Eltham.

With scores level early in the third, the clash was up for grabs with Eltham taking its chance first. Ferronato spun circles around Nunawading with a pair of textbook jump shots to eke out the lead before the Wildcats fired on all cylinders through the fourth to take the title.

Eltham head coach Craig Stratford is getting used to winning on Dandenong Court 1 – following his side’s Under-14 Club Championships success in 2017 – and said this group was great to coach.

“It was a really good win for the Eltham boys,” Stratford said. “different group and different style of play but it was fantastic.

“I felt like as we got down the stretch we started to become comfortable and we were able to control that tempo – Nunawading is a good team with good individual talent so we knew it was going to be a good game and we were really pleased with the boys.

“They just love basketball, love playing together and they’re really fun to coach.”

melbourne u14 girls

UNDER-14 GIRLS

Melbourne had to take a 46-39 triumph out the hard way over Hawthorn. After going scoreless through the first term, the Tigers pounced on the Magic in the second term to set the stage for a thriller down the stretch.

Melbourne had the size and strength but the nimble Hawthorn guards had made most of smart play throughout the clash.

The tables started to turn in Melbourne’s favour as Amy Kurkowski (17 points) showcased her skills.

The Grand Final MVP had all the shots at her disposal as she forced Hawthorn’s defence in close or took the longer shots. In league with Camille Letts (10 points), Diamond Valenti (seven points) and Jessica Barnett-Tonna (six points), the Tigers pushed the gap out through the third and early parts of the fourth.

Hawthorn split the scoring through Jemima Wilcox (13 points), Evangeline King (nine points), Jacqueline Gomes (seven points) and Georgia Mcbean (seven points) as the Magic slashed the gap to three. But in the end Melbourne had enough magic of its own to push out the margin to take the championship.

Melbourne coach Ray Tomlinson said the side has continued to thrive in 2018 and put it down to their attitude and endeavour on court.

“It’s always a process as they’re kids and you’re trying to make them better – these sorts of experiences are the things they have to live up to,” Tomlinson said. “We haven’t been beaten this year, I’m sure we’ll get beaten, but resilience was there and we came through.

“Over time, the future will tell with a lot of these kids as there’s a lot of potential there.”

Bulleen u12b

UNDER-12 BOYS

Bulleen stole the show late in the National Junior Classic final against Kilsyth, taking a 62-41 triumph. Continuing its rampaging run through the tournament, the Boomers showcased their might in the grand final to take the Classic crown. It was a well-poised game through the first term as both sides applied great defensive pressure. But as the quarter went on Bulleen started to assert itself on the scoreboard. A 10-point buffer at the quarter-time set the foundation for the Boomers’ claim to the Classic.

Kilsyth didn’t go quietly into the night though – Mitchell Hansen (10 points), Harrison Collyer (seven points) and Xavier Taylor (seven points) kept the intensity up to keep Bulleen accountable on defence.

But the grand strength of the Boomers’ roster came from its stature and speed. Fleet-footed guard Ryder Cheesman (21 points) ran riot up the court in league with Xavier Ah Tong (16 points), who imposed himself under both baskets.

Bulleen head coach Chris Hastings thought it was a win to savour as it’s not every day you pick up a Classic title.

“I’ve been at it a long time in the under-12 program at Bulleen and it’s not often that the club gets to make grand finals and gold medal games, so it’s a great achievement for the boys and they had a great weekend,” Hastings said. “Two times ago playing against them Kilsyth beat us, so we knew they would be a hard opposition to crack and so we knew they’d be coming at us the whole game.

“We got off to a good start and maintained that lead against quality opposition.”

Eltham Under 12

UNDER-12 GIRLS

There was nothing in it all morning as Eltham eked out a 37-34 overtime win at the National Junior Classic. Hayley Courts (13 points) and Imogen Giles (nine points) were almighty for the Thunder as they stretched the Eltham defence.

Evenly matched throughout the clash as the sides traded the lead right up to the end of regulation. Isobelle Wightman (nine points), Eden Berry (nine points) and Mia Mrmacovski (eight points) forced their way to the basket and helped give Eltham the slight lead approaching the final siren after coming back from a couple of points down.

But Keilor didn’t go away quietly – with seconds remaining Giles burst through the key to hit the lay-up to force the clash to overtime, but the tempo belonged to Eltham from there.

Mrmacovski found the tiniest gap in the defence and nailed the go-ahead shot before Eltham resumed its clamp-down defence – including a forced back-court violation late in overtime – to take the three-point victory.

Eltham coach Ben Cukier said the resilience of the group was its shining characteristic as the girls never gave up even when trailing late in the game.

“I thought we were going to get it done in regulation but couldn’t quite finish off the last shot,” Cukier said. “To Keilor’s credit they kept coming and kept coming.

“They hit the front but I loved the way our girls responded and didn’t drop our heads – went two down but then got back up and we got there in the end.”

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