The JCU Townsville Fire have waved goodbye to 2015 in perfect style with a 77-71 victory over the Perth Lynx.
While 2015 will go down in history as the year the Fire finally broke through for their maiden Wattle Valley WNBL title, the win over the Lynx ensures the North Queensland outfit is firmly in the mix to defend their title in 2016 after downing the competition’s pace setters.
A victory over Adelaide on Saturday night will ensure the Fire, who currently sit in second place, return to the top of the table.
During a blistering start, the Fire raced to an 11-2 lead in the opening quarter as skipper Suzy Batkovic poured in six points and received solid support from Mia Murray and Cayla George.
With Canadian Olympian Tamara Tatham missing through injury, Murray relished her return to the front court and paced the Fire early before finishing with 15 points, three assists and two rebounds during a dominant display.
The Lynx’s vaunted back court of Tess Lavey (18 points and two assists) and Sami Whitcomb (19 points, six rebounds and five assists) ensured the hosts continued to rally, but every time they cut the margin, the Fire answered immediately to provide a fresh buffer.
“We had so many opportunities that we just let go and it’s disappointing,” Lynx coach Andy Stewart said after the game.
“The pressure is there because the scoreboard pressure is there and they were always in front so you have to say credit to them for being able to control that side of the game.
“We got back within three then back within two and then we’d have a mental error and just let them get away again.”
As she has all season, Batkovic (17 points, six rebounds and five blocks) led the Fire from the front as she made a number of telling plays down the stretch, while George (13 points and 10 rebounds) finished with yet another double-double.
It was the production of the Fire’s bench, however, that would have most pleased Chris Lucas.
Despite her role in last season’s championship win, Kate Gaze (12 points and two rebounds) played her best game in a Fire singlet as she drained four of six from beyond the arc to be instrumental in the victory.
Darcee Garbin (nine points and two rebounds) was just as instrumental backing up Batkovic and George, making an important return to her former home court.
The Fire will now regroup before facing the Lightning from 7pm on Saturday night at Adelaide Arena, with the opportunity to start the New Year at the top of the table.
Click here to see full box scores from the Fire’s six-point win.