Winning the under 23 Womens National title in Tauranga was arguably more difficult than the Mens in terms of the physical load on the players. The mens competition was divided into two pools of six, therefore teams were faced with five round robin games and two play off games – seven games in total with just a single outing on the final day. No such luxury for the top two womens teams. They were required to play six pool games, a 9am semi final on day four then front up for the final five hours later. The Waikato v Harbour encounter seemed as if it would be a test of endurance as much as skill.
Deena Franklin got the scoreboard ticking with the first points of the final, Chevahn Morris replying in kind for Waikato. A tight first quarter ended with Harbour just ahead 13-10. The score didn’t change in the first 5:20 of the second quarter until Krystal Leger-Walker reduced the arrears for Waikato. Harbour scored just four points in the quarter trailing 20-19 at the half. Waikato forward Dionne Darlington led all scorers with 10 points.
Harbour scored the first 12 points of the second half including an Ella Fotu triple signaled a dominating 22-4 quarter for the notherner’s, Harbour ahead 41-24 with ten minutes remaining. Both teams hit the wall in the final period, rarely troubling the scorers but it was Harbour that prevailed on the back of their dominant third period winning 57-34.
Harbour had a good spread of scorers, Anna lacey, Sian Telfer, Shinae Blair and Franklin all contributing double figure scores, Dionne Darlington-Martin the best for Waikato with 13 points.
The Mens under 23 final featured the top two qualifiers from pool two, both teams having eliminated the top contenders from pool one in the semi finals and both teams cruising to big wins. Harbour had edged Counties in pool play by ten points but that margin meant nothing heading into the winner takes all final.
Shea Ili, Reuben Te Rangi and Javaan Mumtaz connected with triples for Counties, Inga Solofuti (twice), Matt Lacey and Mitch Richmond replied with threes of their own, Counties just ahead 20-18 at quarter time. Solofuti connected with another triple in the middle of the second quarter. Te Rangi did the same, Harbour ahead 33-29. Isaac Fotu came to life after a quiet first period but was forced to the bench when he pic ked up his third foul. Chris Ofanoa put down an emphatic dunk, Matt Lacey replied with three consecutive triples then Te Rangi scored a classy floater under pressure as the game ebbed and flowed. An exciting half of basketball concluded with Harbour ahead 51-40. Lacey (14pts) and Solofuti (11pts) were the leading scorers for Harbour, Ili (11pts) and Te Rangi (9pts) headed the Counties challenge.
The third quarter featured a version of the lob pass to Abercrombie on this occasion put down by Saman Mohammedizadeh. Counties continued to keep Fotu in check and with it their best chance of winning. Marco Alexander found his range but so too did Mumtaz, and Ili, Harbour still ahead at three quarter time helped by a running floater on the buzzer from Lacey – 80-67.
The teams went tit-for-tat early in the final period before a steal and dunk from Shea Ili sparked a 7-0 Counties run and Zac Fitzgerald and Lacey fouling out for Harbour in the process 88-79 with five minutes remaining, Counties on the charge 88-84 on the back of a Te Rangi ‘and one’. The clock only moved begrudgingly as both teams fouled regularly 94-90 as Fotu became the third Harbour player to foul out with two minutes remaining. Another foul and Te Rangi reduced the lead to three points – Alexander made it 96-91. A free throw to Shea Ili 96-92 with 0:41 remaining. Saman a free throw 97-92 – turnover Counties. Richmond a free throw and all important offensive rebounds from Mike Becker and Mohammedizadeh – Harbour home but only just 101-92.
Harbour – Alexander 25, Lacey 19, Fotu 17, Solofuti 12
Counties – Shea Ili 24, Te Rangi 20, Javaan Mumtaz 16, Dominique Kelman-Potu 12