Bendigo Braves’ veteran Kevin Probert has experienced plenty of winning seasons but after the team missed the finals last year he was not sure he would see any more of them.
But this year the Braves re-grouped and re-tooled and on Saturday night won their way into the SEABL South Conference Final with an 83-73 preliminary final win over North-West Tasmania Thunder at Bendigo Stadium.
The Braves had five players in double figures led by Tony Lewis (26 points, 11 rebounds) while Michael Vigor (16 points), Grant Johnson (12 points), Josh Wilcher (12 points) and Probert (11 points) all found their range.
Probert said both sides had leads during the second half but the Braves rode the talents of Lewis late in the final term to take the win.
He also praised the play of Wilcher and centre Jordan Vandenberg off the bench.
“We had a lot of different guys step up at different times,” Probert said.
“We have to continue to play with that physicality for 40 minutes - we had Josh come off the bench and step up and big Jordan was fantastic - he had four or five blocks and probably played his best game this season.”
Now the Braves face possibly the toughest test of any of their title runs when they travel to Mt. Gambier to take on the Pioneers in the conference final this Friday night.
The Braves won the national title in 2005 plus conference titles in 2007, 2010 and 2011 - many of those victories were over Knox Raiders when the two clubs were close rivals.
“I think it probably is our toughest challenge but we have one of the deepest teams that we have had,” Probert said.
“Most of those finals were Knox and us but this time is tough with the travel and all that sort of stuff.
“But in the end on Friday night there will be five guys on court for each team and a basketball game.”
The Braves have lost their previous games against the Pioneers this year but he still believes the side can muster a big performance when they travel to Mt. Gambier.
“The second time they beat us comfortably but two weeks ago we were up in the last quarter so we know we can match it with them,” Probert said.
“If we can play four pretty near perfect quarters then we can get the win.”
After a long and successful career, Probert said last year’s disappointing season reminded him and other veterans like Chris Hogan and Taylor Bell that success can never be taken for granted.
“Last year was the first time in my 10 years we didn’t make finals. It made us work harder leading into this season and it’s been rewarding so far.
“I did wonder if we could get back to the finals.
“This shows how important these games are, Chris, Taylor and myself are now older and want to win a national final together because we have never done that.
“That’s something that will keep us focused - I’ve been to a few conference finals and anything can happen.”
*Geelong star Kimmani Barrett had 23 points, six rebounds, four steals in his club’s win over Dandenong.
*Supercats stalwarts Nick Owusu (20 points, four rebounds) and Nathan Herbert (20 points, five rebounds, six assists) also had big nights while veteran Eric Gaff was a monster on the boards with 11 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks.
*Dandenong star Daequon Montreal led his side with 24 points, ten rebounds while Lucas Walker topped off a strong season with 13 and ten.
*Bendigo’s Tony Lewis turned match-winner against North-West Tasmania with 26 points and 11 rebounds.
*The Braves had lots of contributors starting with Michael Vigor (16 points, three blocks) while Grant Johnson and Josh Wilcher both scored 12 points and Kevin Probert collected 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
*Braves young centre Jordan Vandenberg also proved valuable with eight rebounds and four blocks.
*N-W Tasmania star Fred Hunter finished an excellent season with 20 points and 13 boards. Garrett Jackson chimed in with 14 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks and Brad Simpson recorded 11 points and eight rebounds.
SEABL media links
*Geelong Advertiser’s Wes Cusworth (@WesCusworth) reports on the Supercats’ win over Dandenong. Report: http://www.geelongadvertiser.com.au/sport/local-sport/geelong-supercats-book-final-berth-with-win-over-rangers/story-fnjuhs0b-1227505100011
*Bendigo Advertiser’s Adam Bourke (@Bourkey77) reports on the Braves’ win over N-W Tasmania and how they don’t fear the trip to Mt Gambier. Report, pics: http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3314896/brilliant-braves-advance-to-conference-final/?cs=81
*Bendigo Advertiser also published this picture gallery from Glenn Daniels. Report: http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3314259/braves-into-grand-final/?cs=140#slide=7
*Bourke also wrote about two big milestones for the Braves heading into their game against NW Tasmania. Story: http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3312868/thunder-the-target-for-bendigo-braves/?cs=81
*The Advocate’s Cameron Whiteley (@CWhiteley12) reports on NW Tasmania’s loss to Bendigo. Report: http://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/3314297/thunders-seabl-season-over-after-loss-to-bendigo/?cs=88
*The Advocate’s Brad Cole (@BJCole10) wrote this preview on Phil Thomas and Ben Harvey’s long friendship. Story: http://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/3313777/friendship-on-hold-for-former-thunder-allies/?cs=88
*The Border Mail’s Chris Young spoke to Bandits’ guard Michael Watson about the team’s excitement for their conference final. Story, video: http://www.bordermail.com.au/story/3309783/my-future-is-yet-to-be-determined-watson/?cs=2443
Roy Ward (@rpjward) is a freelance sports writer who has covered the NBA, NBL, WNBL, SEABL and Big V during his career. He will be filing weekly columns on the SEABL men’s and women’s competitions during this season. For feedback or suggestions send Roy a tweet or email him at email@example.com.