Geraldton Buccaneers heartbreak as Rockingham Flames claim NBL1 West championship in final quarter boilover

Headshot of Jake Santa Maria
Jake Santa MariaGeraldton Guardian
Liam Hunt and Mathiang Muo embrace after the Buccs fell just short.
Camera IconLiam Hunt and Mathiang Muo embrace after the Buccs fell just short. Credit: Arctic_Moon_Photography

The Rockingham Flames produced a last quarter for the ages to stun the Geraldton Buccaneers and claim their first ever NBL1 West title.

In a packed Bendat Basketball Centre, the Flames came back from 11 points down midway through the third quarter to break the Buccs’ hearts 91-79.

It was a clash of the top two teams with the Buccs probably going into the match as slight favourites having been the standout team all season long in the NBL1 West before dominating their two finals as they searched for their third premiership and first since 2019.

Rockingham had kept pace with Geraldton throughout the season and had strong wins in their finals to earn a spot in the decider for the second year in a row and were looking for redemption after falling short against the Perry Lake Hawks last year.

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Matthew Wundenberg made an inspired start for the Buccs, ripping the ball away from the Flames on multiple occasions. Mathiang Muo and Malik Meunier got to work from beyond the arc to settle the Buccs’ nerves and give them an early lead.

The Flames responded as former Wildcat Tom Jervis was dangerous with Marshall Nelson to get the lead before the teams traded baskets. Meunier hit a beautiful fade-away jumper and drew the foul to add the extra point and allow the Buccs to take a five-point lead into the first break.

Wundenberg was in foul trouble but Ryan Blanchett stepped up for the Buccs, hitting a big three early in the second before Shaun Stewart rejected Devondrick Walker’s lay-up attempt at the other end as the Buccs grew their lead to 10 points.

Muo was deadly from beyond the arc and Stewart was working inside the paint as the Buccs kept a lid on the dangerous Devondrick Walker for the time being.

The Buccaneers’ lead was out to 11 to start the second half with Meunier connecting from beyond the arc, but Jervis sparked a Flames fightback with his team’s first six points of the half.

The Buccs’ shooting percentage fell to the 30s as shots were not dropping for them. Meanwhile, Flames’ Justin Beard hit a three to close the gap to just four points.

Walker was starting to get into top gear scything his way through the Buccs’ defence, but Ryan Blanchett and Fletcher Klasztorny hit threes to relieve some pressure. However, Rockingham trailed by only four points at three-quarter-time.

Now it was the Flames’ turn to up the defence as the Buccs’ shooting went from bad to disastrous to fall below 20 per cent.

Cameron Coleman was having an off-night and with the fouls mounting up for the Buccs, the Flames pressed on, getting multiple chances at the foul line to take the lead midway through the final quarter.

There was still time but Nelson hit back-to-back threes to open up a six-point gap.

It would prove too much for the Buccs to overcome as they scored just nine final-quarter points to the Flames’ 25 as Rockingham claimed the NBL1 West Championship for the first time in their history.

It’s a fairytale finish for Wildcat legend Greg Hire who is widely expected to retire, while Walker was named MVP on the night to go with his league award in a commanding performance.

The Buccs will be disappointed having led for most of the night but they just could not score at the end. Muo and Meunier finished with 15 points apiece but the Buccs were outscored 25-9 in the final term.

Liam Hunt was gracious in defeat giving credit to Rockingham for their performance.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed, was such a great day, you guys were fantastic I know how it feels having been their in 2019, enjoy the night,” he said.

“What a fantastic atmosphere to see 10 blokes try and kill each other.”

Hunt’s speech then turned emotional as he reflected on what has been an incredible personal journey overcoming a serious leg injury.

“To be able to play again with such a great group of boys is just unreal . . . I never thought I’d be in this position again,” he said.

“Thanks so much to the crowd, congratulations to the boys on such a great season.”

Coach Dayle Joseph was despondent after the game but was proud of the Buccs’ performance.

“It was a hell of a game, it’s tough being in the game for so long and it gets away from you in a couple of minutes, it hurts a little bit.”

“We got ourselves in a bit of foul trouble and it just got away from us, but I’m proud of the guys for the way they stuck at it. We played our game of basketball all the way through, it just wasn’t quite enough to beat the Flames.

“Everyone’s pretty shattered to get so close, but we’ll let this settle, assess a few things and be back to try again.”

The Buccs deserve enormous credit for the remarkable season they put together, and to have put themselves in a position to lead the grand final up until the last five minutes from when they were last season.

While this will hurt no doubt the Buccs will be stronger for it and hopefully can go one step further next season.

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