BALLARAT Rush’s agenda is set – Nunawading, Saturday night at 7pm, for a South East Australian Basketball League final.
The mood on the bus trip home at the weekend was happy and relaxed – Rush players knew they had sealed their spot.
They had to grit out an intense, physical game for a three-point win against Dandenong to get there on Saturday night.
Other results helped push the odds in their favour, most notably with Canberra beating Kilsyth while Auslec Rush was on the floor against Dandenong.
But it helped Rush in knowing it had the head-to-head advantage on Kilsyth anyway, nabbed when Rush played for the advantage rather than a win against the Cobras at the Minerdome in late June.
Results have kept Rush fourth in the SEABL south conference, a game clear of Kilsyth, locked on the same wins as Hobart and Nunawading.
Rush’s win cost Dandenong second spot in east rankings.
There was little in the low-scoring game, with no more than six points splitting Rush from Dandenong. In the second quarter the margin was no more than one point either way.
Rush coach Peter Cunningham said his stress levels were high throughout the tight affair, but he was pleased with how well his team adapted to claim the win.
“We had a good contribution from everyone, which is something we’ve been trying to do for a while,” Cunningham said.
“It wasn’t a free-flowing game . It was fairly intense, a lot of contact.
“(Dandenong) was mobile and quick but we competed with a lot of energy to stay in the game mentally.
“We were focused, and when they shut our offence out, we found different ways to score.”
Rush import Nya Mason hurt her knee under the basket early in the third quarter but, with treatment and strapping from the Rangers’ physiotherapist, was able to return for a crucial five-minute period in the final term.
She put up four points, nabbed one rebound and two steals before returning to the sidelines.
Mason played a key role in frustrating Rangers’ tall Lauren Scherf (11 points, nine rebounds) to the point where the Rangers were forced to pull Scherf off.
Kate Willey nullified dangerous Rangers’ captain Clare Papavs (two points, seven rebounds) and took charge as a hard-working leader, making good decisions and staying calm in her approach.
Rush guard Andrea McMahon formed a good duel with Amelia Todhuter and chipped in 10 points while Alice Kunek kept up her relentless assault, despite a broken finger.
Developing youngsters Sophie Alexander and Bronte Clark each came off the bench and delivered in important roles.
This is what Cunningham and his coaches have been demanding the past month – solid, even contribution.
Teamwork has secured a finals spot, now Rush gets the chance to see what it can do with that.