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Geraldton Buccaneers stifled by Rockingham Flames in NBL1 West championship decider

Headshot of Jake Santa Maria
Jake Santa MariaMidwest Times
Liam Hunt and Greg Hire embrace after the game.
Camera IconLiam Hunt and Greg Hire embrace after the game. Credit: Arctic_Moon_Photography

The Buccs fell agonisingly short of the NBL1 West Championship as the Rockingham Flames claimed their first title on Saturday night.

It was an electric atmosphere at the Bendat Basketball Centre as a packed house turned out including a large contingent of Buccs supporters in what was set to be an absorbing final.

League MVP Devondrick Walker against defensive player of the year Cameron Coleman and ex-Wildcats Greg Hire and Tom Jervis against the experience of Buccs’ Matthew Wundenberg and Liam Hunt ensured there would be a wealth of talent across the court.

The Buccs made a strong start with the first score of the grand final coming from Shaun Stewart before three-balls to Malik Meunier and Mathiang Muo gave them an 8-4 advantage.

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Flames captain Ryan Godfrey answered with a three before Muo and Walker traded three-pointers as the final got off to a rollicking start.

Tom Jervis, Walker and then Marshall Nelson helped Rockingham to a 6-0 run to take the lead. Geraldton then closed the opening quarter strongly with a 15-5 run including three-pointers from Muo and Johny Narkle, and an and-one from Meunier.

The Buccaneers led 26-21 at quarter-time before they extended their lead to 10 with seven of the opening nine points of the second period as well.

Rockingham did their best to stay in touch, with Walker hitting another three-ball, Justin Beard knocking down a couple from deep and Greg Hire completing a three-point play.

But Geraldton remained in control and a late triple going into half-time from Liam Hunt led to a 49-39 lead at the main break.

The Buccs’ lead was out to 11 as the second half started with Meunier connecting from beyond the arc, but Jervis sparked a Flames fightback with his team’s first six points of the half before Beard nailed another three ball.

The Buccs’ shots weren’t going in, their shooting percentages dropped into the 30s and Walker was starting to express himself on the game bringing the Flames to within two points.

Hunt converted some late free-throws to help the Buccs cling to a four-point lead but the momentum had shifted against them.

Their issues were compounded in the final term as the game went up a gear in terms of physicality. With Buccs captain Mat Wundenberg struggling to stay on the floor with foul trouble along with Hunt and Muo, Rockingham built some momentum.

The Flames became aggressive in attacking the rim with the Geraldton frontcourt in foul trouble. Rockingham lived at the foul line to start the fourth term, and eventually, it saw them grab the lead midway through.

The Buccs desperately tried to stop the slide but Nelson hit the two biggest shots of the grand final on back-to-back possessions, draining consecutive three-pointers to take scores from being level to a six-point Rockingham lead.

The only score the rest of the night for Geraldton was a three from Stewart, but they were outscored 9-25 in the last quarter to lose a game they had led for the better part of three quarters.

Muo and Meunier had 15 points apiece, while Stewart was not far behind on 14 to be the leading scorers for the Buccs, but they couldn’t match the 26 points of Walker and 19 from Nelson.

It was a tough loss having been so close but the Buccs should hold their heads high on a fantastic season and can hopefully come out firing and go on better in 2023.

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