The JCU Townsville Fire continue their tilt towards a third straight WNBL title after sweeping their Victorian road double with a six-point win over Bendigo.
Having won eight of their past 10 games – losing two thrillers to the UC Capitals and Sydney Uni Flames in between some hot form – the Fire still have their eyes firmly set on a top-two position and will go a long way to achieving that if they can finish their season with back-to-back wins in Townsville.
Despite being battle-weary after facing Dandenong last night, the two-time reigning champions stuck to the task at hand against the Spirit, securing an 83-77 win as their arch-rival cut their lead to two with just 12 seconds remaining.
Fire skipper Suzy Batkovic was cool in a crisis, however, exorcising the demons from last week’s missed attempts against the Flames to make six straight shots to ice the contest.
“I was really proud of the effort that we showed this weekend,” head coach Claudia Brassard said.
“Everyone knew how big this season was in the context of our season and to respond with two wins after losing our starting point guard says a lot about our mental approach.
“We haven’t handled adversity well this season, but to our credit, we found a way and that says a lot about this group.”
Batkovic finished with a game-high 31 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four blocks to be named the First Things First MVP.
— JCU Townsville Fire (@TownsvilleFire) February 5, 2017
Her running mate, Mia Murray, was just as impressive, splashing triples at will as the Fire went on a 19-0 run in the second term to open up a 45-25 lead.
While Batkovic and Murray (22 points, four rebounds and three assists) were dominant, the pair had plenty of help from Darcee Garbin, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds, and Kelly Wilson.
The latter finishing with nine points, nine rebounds and six assists against her former club in her best game for the Fire since returning to Townsville.
“Suzy had a phenomenal weekend,” Brassard said.
“It speaks volumes of her character – and her leadership – that she wanted the ball in her hands after last week’s missed foul attempts.
“When the game was on the line, she wanted the responsibility of icing the contest and she did that with six straight free throws.
“I thought Kelly was very good today too. She’s had an injury interrupted season and this was the first real weekend where she could show us what she could do and she did it brilliantly.”
With little separating the two teams, the Fire edged away at quarter-time as Amy Kame splashed a buzzer-beater to open up a seven-point lead.
Batkovic had 11 at the first change and 17 by the half as a 26-12 term gave the Fire a 21-point lead at the main break.
Back-to-back baskets to start the third term had the Fire moving away like a freight train before a harrowing Bendigo fightback threatened to drastically change the reigning champs’ season.
Spearheaded by Kelsey Griffin (28 points and eight rebounds), the Spirit outscored the Fire by 27-10 to close out the third term as the lead was slashed to just eight.
With weary legs – and a small rotation – the Fire were in danger of being run over the top of but the visitors continued to stand tall.
Unable to apply scoreboard pressure, the Fire saw their lead cut to a one possession game in the clutch before time got the better of the Spirit.
As a result, the Fire have secured a much-needed series win and can now consolidate a play-off berth on their home floor.
Click here to see full box scores between the Spirit and the Fire.