The last game of the 2017 season for the Women and Men saw the Tigers pitted against the Bendigo sides. The Lady Braves were playing for top spot in the South Division while the Tigers were playing for pride, whilst in the Men’s game, neither team was going to the playoffs but both teams wanted to finish on a good note.
The Women’s match was a tough and at times fiery clash between 2 sides on opposite ends of the ladder but you certainly would not have been able to tell that as the Tigers who was led by the incredible Hannah Zavecz who was originally not named in the squad to play.
The Lady Braves got off to a good start as they opened with the first 4 points, while the Tigers struggled to find the bottom of the basket but Bendigo couldn’t completely capitalize on it and after 2 minutes of play the Tigers finally got on the board by a nice move inside by Peri Kalka. Bendigo continued to surge ahead as they led by 9 after 5:30 of play. Hannah who started on the bench stepped up as she scored 7 of the Tigers 9 points in their 9 – 0 run to tie the scores up. The Tigers intensity on the defensive end had lifted and were becoming more aggressive on the offensive end as well. Bendigo composed themselves though and went into quarter time with a 16 – 19 lead.
Bendigo again came out for the 2nd quarter looking determined to try and put the Tigers away and opened a 9-point lead. Melbourne battled to remain in the contest but was struggling to find a way to score. Bendigo got out to a 10-point lead with 4:47 left to play in the period before Melbourne put together another 9 – 0 run and the game was back to a single point lead to the Lady Braves with 2:05 to go before the half. Bendigo would score the only other basket for the remainder of the quarter and went to halftime up, 29 – 32.
Whatever Head Coach Zoe Carr said to the girls at halftime must have had a massive impact on the side as the Tigers intensity went through the roof as they started the quarter with another 9 – 0 run to take a 6-point lead before Bendigo hit a 3. The Tigers domination continued as they piled on the points and had Bendigo’s coach fuming on the sidelines as his players became hesitant to take the ball inside instead of settling for contested jump shots. Melbourne outscored the Lady Braves for the period, 25 – 6 which saw them go into 3 quarter time leading, 54 – 38.
A 3 to Bianca Babic started the 4th quarter and gave the Tigers their largest lead of 19 points. Bendigo tried to get themselves back into the game but couldn’t get past a strong defensive effort from the Tigers often enough to get anything going. The Tigers off of a pair of Peri Kalka made free throws extended their lead out to 20 points with 4:17 left in the game. The lead was 19 still after a pair of Monique Conti free throws with 2:29 left, the Tigers though started to take it easy on the court and Bendigo quickly threw down the challenge as the reeled off 11 unanswered points in a minute and a half. With the lead down to 8 with under a minute to play, Ash Stainer went 3 of 4 from the free throw line in the last minute as the Tigers walked away with a 76 – 65 upset win over Bendigo.
Hanna Zevecz was superb with 31 points coming off the bench to go with 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals. Louella Tomlinson had 14 points along with 16 rebounds and Peri Kalka and Monique Conti each had 11 for the Tigers.
A fantastic result for the Women in their debut season putting together 7 wins including 5 in their last 8 games. Zoe Carr did a fantastic group with the side and the additions of Hanna Zavecz and Elyse Penaluna helped develop the younger players at a rapid rate. Then when Louella joined the side, after taking a couple of games to adjust to her new teammates, things began to click for the Tigers and they finished it all off on a resounding note. 2018 could be a massive year for the Women as they continue to go forward.
The Men were on next against the Bendigo Braves who the Tigers had yet to beat in 3 attempts with an average losing margin of 24.33 points. The defending Champions Bendigo had gone through a bit of a roster change with some of their players having moved on to bigger things but the side had still proven to be a dangerous side and up until last week was still in playoff contention.
Both sides came out with their intentions clear as Daryl Corletto missed the first shot of the game but Ryan Oirbans muscled his way to grab the offensive rebound and got the ball back to Daryl who hit a 3 to get the Tigers started. Bendigo would then outscore Melbourne 9 – 2 to lead 5 – 9 after 3:43 of play. The Tigers were up and about though and responded with 6 straight points to tighten the game right up again. A 3-point play by Bendigo with 4:18 left in the 1st quarter saw Bendigo retake a 1-point lead but for the remainder of the quarter it was all Melbourne as they outscored the Braves 13 – 4 to lead 26 – 18 at the break.
The first 2 minutes of the 2nd quarter was all Melbourne as they scored the first 7 points to lead by 15 points but after a Bendigo timeout the Braves came back with 7 straight points of their own. Melbourne again though remained composed and kept Bendigo at bay extending their lead back out to 14 points and by the time halftime rolled around the Tigers still led by 10, 45 – 35.
After halftime, the Braves looked to be making their move against the Tigers as they moved back to within 5 points of the Tigers in the opening minute before trading baskets for a couple of minutes. It wasn’t long though till the Braves were back to within 2 points of Melbourne. The Tigers eventually regrouped and took their lead back to 9 before taking a 68 – 61 lead into the last break.
With the scores still relatively close the Braves were still within reach of the Tigers and brought the margin back to 3 points very quickly. Nate Tomlinson hit a key 3 to settle things down before Ari responded with a jump shot of his own to bring it out to an 8-point Tigers lead. The game remained tight for a moment later before the Tigers exploded, outscoring Bendigo 17 -3. Melbourne had pushed their lead out to 20 with 3:27 to go. The Tigers held onto a solid lead as time wound down and eventually came away with a 97 – 84 victory.
Ari Stewart had a great game with 36 points, 9 rebounds (6 offensive), 4 assists and a steal. Daryl Corletto also had a great night out had 30 points with 6 rebounds, while Nate Tomlinson led the team from the front with 10 assists to go along with 9 points and 2 steals.
The Men have come a long way from last season given the side won just 3 games in their debut season. Melbourne have shown some amazing character given the changes to the roster throughout the year with Tom Wilson leaving early to play professionally in Serbia. Daryl Corletto joining the side mid-season after coming home from Britain and then having a delayed start due to illness. Bo Liu having to go home to China for the Chinese National Games before coming back for a couple of games before all 3 of our Chinese players had to go home. Dane Pineau joined the team late in the season before having to join the Sydney Kings Development Squad and Ryan Oirbans joined the team at the same time as Dane. That was including injuries that were suffered by Paul Elderkin, Jimmy Todd, Ari Stewart, Billy Hughes and the niggling little injuries that Nate picked up along the way. The Tigers are lucky though to have so many options as coaches as when Andrew Gaze was away Brad Pineau stepped up to the plate and scored a few wins as well.
The Tigers will be hoping to see many of the players return for 2018 with a chance to take Melbourne to the Playoffs in both the Men and the Women.
The Melbourne Tigers would also like thank all the fans who brave the cold week in and week out as the club continues to fight on.