The Logan based South East Queensland Stars have been eliminated from the WNBL finals, falling just one game short of making the grand finals series after losing to the reigning champions Townsville Fire 91-71 in Townsville on Sunday.
The Stars have had a fairytale run since their season was saved by sponsors and community supporters after they were put into the hands of liquidators last month, losing just one game from five before Sunday’s preliminary final loss.
The Stars struggled in the first quarter as the Fire led by reigning league most valuable player (MVP) Suzy Batkovic opened up a quick double digit lead on the back of their physical defence.
Stars coach Megan Thompson who took over from Shane Heal after one the team’s saviours requested he step aside said she was proud of the way her team continued to fight despite their first quarter troubles.
“It was incredibly physical and I guess the game really was lost in the first quarter, they came out really really tough, stamped their authority early and the ball just didn’t bounce our way and from that point on we just had to keep fighting and fighting,” she said.
“The second, third and fourth quarters we were even with them on the the scoreboard in terms of how many points were scored, but it was that first quarter where they just came out and jumped us early.
“They out-muscled us, dare I say bullied us a bit, I think we shot in the low 30 per cent in the first quarter, then for the remainder of the game I think we were up in the 40s, I think that physicality really threw us, but credit to the girls they came back and fought as hard as they could until the final buzzer.”
Thompson said she did have a plan in place to stop Batkovic who led the Fire to victory with 31 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, but added that the MVP just had one of those games.
“Coming off a tough loss against Perth, last week, Suzy and her crew were very determined, they shot an incredible percentage and everything she put up went in and the ball just kept falling into her hands on rebounds, she had a great game,” she said.
Compounding the loss for the Stars was having to watch arguably their best player in Rachel Jarry be helped off the court in the final term after suffering a sickening knee to head while defending. Thompson said the Opals star is recovering and thankfully has no broken bones.
“She’s ok, obviously she will have some follow up with her medical professionals returning, before she hits the court again for Opals training , she’ll rest for a couple days, go back and see a doctor just to make sure she’s ready to go again but between now and then just resting up after a mild concussion,” she said.
The Stars were led by import Jordan Hooper with 20 points, while Bec Allen had 16, Ify Ibekwe 12 and Amy Lewis and Nadeen Payne each scoring nine. Before being concussed Jarry struggled with the increased physical nature of the Townsville defence, tallying just five points while committing six turnovers, she did however grab seven rebounds and seven assists before sustaining the knock to her head.
Batkovic was helped by 24 points from a hot-shooting Mia Murray who hit four three pointers for the Fire.
Whether the Stars who officially finished third in just their first season in the national competition play on next year remains up in the air but Thompson said should the club survive, she would relish the chance to coach at the top level again.
“There’s a lot of positive talk, a lot of positive talk going around but obviously nothing confirmed but I guess within the next week or two we will all know, if they are going to make that decision to keep the team going it has to be made sooner rather than later because obviously players will go and sign elsewhere if they’re not to sign here and there’s a lot to organise between now and pre-season training which usually starts in the first week of September,” she said.
“I need to decompress at the moment but it is something that I would be very open to, it was a real baptism of fire but I enjoyed working with the girls and coaching the girls and I’d love to move forward.”
Townsville Fire now play the Perth Lynx in the WNBL grand final series starting on March 12.