IT’S 10.37pm on Friday night.
Only eight minutes game-time separates Portstars United and Waverley Falcons from a spot in the Melbourne United Victorian Junior Basketball League’s (MUVJBL) Under-18 Men’s Victorian Championship.
While many teams expect to make MUVJBL’s VC – and a few others routinely demand it – for Portstars United… it was a dream.
There was plenty to play for in the U18 Crossover between Portstars and Waverley. It was winner take all in a lot of ways – to the victor goes the ticket to VC while the vanquished would be placed in VJL One.
The side is a relative newcomer to the league – having only featured in four seasons since the Port Phillip Basketball Association and Newstars Basketball Association formed the composite MUVJBL entity.
The two smaller associations united – hence the name – to give the kids of Melbourne’s inner suburbs another avenue to the MUVJBL.
The league sees this from time-to-time – the newcomers staking their place under the spotlight – and it’s always fascinating to watch it pan out.
Portstars exploded early – pushing the gap to a comfortable 11-21 at the first break – but that wasn’t the end of this story… not by any stretch.
Both sides cranked up the pressure to leave poor shots and little chance at taking the win cleanly.
Following Abe Gatwech Choul’s steal, textbook layup and made free throw, scores had levelled as the third term started ticking down.
The slight advantage was taken by Portstars on the final shot of the term. Rustem Ameti had 4.4 seconds to weave some magic off the in-bound. He shot up the court, dished out to Marcus Hernandez on the perimeter, who found an inch of room to sink a monster three pointer and give his side a three-point lead… at 10.37pm.
From there the last quarter was frenetic, furious and amazing to watch as neither side gave up their hopes of making VC until the final whistle.
Ameti started to take the game by the scruff of the neck – dictating the clock and making some wild lay-ups throughout an exceptional performance.
His efforts pushed United’s lead to nine with less than four minutes remaining in the must-win clash… but Waverley wasn’t done yet.
Mitchell Nugara started his rampage against the United front; making powerful attacks on the ring.
In the end it Aron Lamb gave Portstars the ticket to the big show with a three-pointer that bounced off the rim, flipped up and finally – after what seemed like an eternity – dropped to give the side a 68-62 triumph.
While these sides will face the toughest competition of their basketball journeys when they head into VC, whether or not they succeed or struggle – just making it is incredible.
Sometimes the hardest path will reap the greatest rewards in the long-term and for Portstars United, it’s all about the first VC U18 Boys’ tip-off in two weeks.
It was a similar tale for Hawthorn Magic – with its two girls sides advancing to the top grade following impressive wins over Sandringham and Casey respectively.
In the must-win clash for the under-16 ladies, Hawthorn emerged victorious on the back of some sensational defending via the likes of Casey Dunstan, Emily Ghantous and Zoe Rudd.
After Sandringham ballooned an early lead, with Jemma Whitson nailing a monster three to take advantage early, the Magic had to work some of their best witchery to turn the tables and run out 47-33 winners.
“It’s pretty good – in the last crossover we beat Werribee by one, so it was the skin of our teeth to get through that last one – and it was the same in this one as we were down by seven at half time,” Hawthorn coach Lloyd Klaman said.
“I think it’s huge – a lot of the kids have never been in VC before and it’s an age group where we were really worried about it (making VC), but as you can see the kids are really excited about it and I think they felt the pressure, as it was like a final for us.”
For the under-12 girls, the battle was real. It’s never easy for a second team to make the cut, but Hawthorn’s girls made it clear about where they wanted to play next round.
The tall brigade troubled Casey vertically while the Magic’s nimble guards made life just as hard from the in-bound all the way to the rack. But Casey didn’t fold. They doubled down and worked harder to clear the back court and… it almost worked.
Casey had its chances, but couldn’t finish them off as Hawthorn snuck its second under-12 girls side through to VC with the 33-29 win.
But those weren’t the only great games from the round, that was just from one night on court one.
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