West Adelaide’s 2018 season has come to a close after they were knocked out by the Southern Tigers 69-76 in a tense and frustrating night in Port Adelaide.
With a finals spot up for grabs, the Bearcats were unable to overcome a Tigers side who ran away with the game in a frantic final quarter.
Southern advances to play Norwood in a cut-throat elimination final, while the Bearcats have been relegated to sixth place due to their unfavourable tiebreaker with the Tigers.
In a low scoring defensive slog, Denelle Fawcett (16 pts, 6 rebs, 1 ast) top scored. Demi Skinner (13 pts, 7 rebs, 3 asts) was kept well below her averages and Jessica Frost (10 pts, 3 rebs, 3 asts) was the only other Tiger to reach double figures.
Michaela Lappin (13 pts, 12 rebs, 1 stl) recorded her first double-double of the year, while Tahlia Fejo (14 pts, 2 rebs, 2 asts) and Alexis Eckles (6 pts, 8 rebs, 2 asts) made the most of their minutes off the bench.
Bearcats Coach Tim Brenton says the game was a perfect encapsulation of the season as a whole.
“Funnily enough, it’s sitting okay at the moment because it was a good representation of how our season went,” says Coach Brenton.
“We lost eight games all year, six of them under 10 (points). So when you’re losing by that amount it’s always your foul shots, your layups, the 1 percenters.
“They’re really upset with themselves…they should be upset…but not in a bad way because they’re good human beings and they just need to put in a little bit of extra work.”
With a huge crowd in attendance, the two sides started out tit-for-tat; Denelle Fawcett getting 4 points on the board early, while Ieva Nagy struck back with a three.
But it was Southern who would break out to a telling lead in the first quarter, creating a deficit the Bearcats would not overcome until the second half; 6 points from Jemma Thacker putting the Tigers up 14-25 at quarter time.
Nagy got the second quarter underway with a classy inside jump shot, and Jasmin Fejo responded to a spray from her coach with a lovely reverse layup and 2 steals in the space of a minute.
But it failed to kickstart any offensive momentum for the Bearcats, who could only cut the halftime margin to 8 points.
The halftime stats aptly reflected West Adelaide’s inefficiency; shooting at 36% and turning the ball over 12 times. Their defence had kept them in the game with Southern only having 41 points on the board heading into the second half.
Coach Brenton says his side’s first-half performance put them in a precarious position for the rest of the game.
“In any sport, there is a focus on what happens in the last quarter, but we gave them a 10-point head start in the first quarter, we weren’t switched on with our finishing,” Coach Brenton says.
“I thought our defence was pretty good all game, it’s just that we didn’t finish as well as we should have.”
Despite the poor first half, West Adelaide looked like they might claim a finals spot as the game got underway after halftime.
The Bearcats started consistently knocking down shots, and a run of 11 unanswered points meant the home side were up for the first time all night halfway through the third quarter.
Tahlia Fejo led the comeback with 8 points including an acrobatic three-point play which had the crowd on their feet. Keeley Pearce chipped in with an unlikely jump shot followed by a huge block on Southern’s Ashley Olvera.
But Molly McKendrick’s fadeaway just before the three-quarter time break gave Southern some momentum heading into the final quarter, cutting West Adelaide’s lead to an uncomfortable 59-55.
After being kept quiet for the majority of the game, Demi Skinner came alive for the Tigers when it counted; scoring 8 points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter.
On the other side of the court, West Adelaide’s offence stuttered at the crucial moment and could only muster 10 points in the final 10 minutes.
The last quarter of West Adelaide’s season was littered with shaky moments and uncharacteristic missed shots; Coach Brenton says that while pressure played a role in their poor finish, they gave themselves too much to do in the long run.
“To be honest and this will sound a little bit stupid, but they didn’t beat us…we just didn’t finish, we didn’t do the things to get us over the line,” Coach Brenton says.
“I think pressure does play a part and people tightened up a little bit and that’s what’s natural.
“They’re going to be the obvious ones that people talk about but at the end of the day we shouldn’t have been in that position.”
Despite a heartbreaking end to the season, the vibes around West Adelaide’s womens program are very positive, and a bright future is ahead for a group which improved significantly on their 7-11 record last season.
“The pleasing thing about this group is that they’re young…10-8 is a good record for an average age of 22,”
“Let’s not forget in our starting five tonight we had a girl that’s come out of the under 18s last year (Jasmin Fejo), we’ve got Molly Whitmore who’s still playing under 18s.
“80-90% of the group have been through our under 10s program all the way up through juniors so there’s a lot to love about the group.”
The Bearcats also said goodbye to loved and respected veteran Alice Gee, who retired after over 150 games in the league.
In a heartfelt Facebook post after the game, West Adelaide Assistant Coach Morgan Treloar thanked Gee for her time at the club.
“A much-loved junior coach, Alice has touched the hearts of many,” Coach Treloar wrote.
“Perhaps more valuable than her ever obvious talent was her heart, her kindness and her willingness to give selflessly to our club and our juniors.”
“We couldn’t be prouder of the player, coach and person that she is.”