Behind the strength of a 23-2 run to close the third and start the fourth quarter, the Bendigo Spirit has recorded its first ever finals victory, breaking open a game that was close throughout on the way to a 74-53 victory at Bendigo Stadium.
Leading by just one with three minutes remaining in the third, the Spirit turned its focus inside to Gabe Richards who finished with 20 points, sparking the rest of the team’s attack as the Spirit displayed the teamwork that allowed them to finish third on the ladder during the regular season.
The win puts the Spirit through to next week’s Preliminary Final showdown against Canberra, the only team the Spirit is yet to defeat this season, next Saturday.
After fighting valiantly to make the playoffs by defeating Townsville by 1 point in Round 18 and recording its first finals win in franchise history in Wednesday’s Elimination Final against Dandenong, the Thunder gave its best effort before running out of gas having played its third road game in nine days.
Tess Madgen led the Spirit with 23 points, including four 3-pointers, while pulling down eight rebounds. Richards recorded a double-double, grabbing 13 rebounds, including eight offensive boards, to go with her 20 point haul.
Chelsea Aubry scored 11 points to go along with seven rebounds while Kristi Harrower was held to just seven points but added eight assists and six rebounds.
Ranae Camino led the Thunder with 14 points and grabbed four rebounds but was the only Logan player to reach double-figures in scoring.
It was Logan that used a balanced offensive attack to take a 16-14 lead at quarter time with seven different Thunder players finding the scoring column.
Cayla Francis and Emma Randall opened the scoring, each connecting on scores to put the road team up 4-0 before Madgen hit the first of three first half 3-pointers.
Back-to-back baskets by Veal and Madgen near the end of the first quarter saw the sides stay within two entering the second quarter.
The lone bright spot early for the Spirit, Madgen scored 10 of her 13 first-half points in the opening frame to keep Bendigo close.
Logan stretched its lead to eight points midway through the second quarter when Francis connected on a jumper from the wing in transition. Chelsea Aubry answered with a jumper of her own before Camino scored on an athletic put-back to put the Thunder up 26-18 with under five minutes remaining before halftime.
The Spirit mounted a run, though, as Madgen and Harrower both hit threes before Richards started to go to work inside, scoring consecutive baskets including a three-point play that gave the lead back to Bendigo at 29-28 with under one minute remaining.
Scores by Randall and Aubry put Bendigo up 31-30 as the teams entered the changerooms.
The teams played even for much of the third quarter with Veal making two free throws to cut Bendigo’s lead to 1 at 41-40 with just over three minutes remaining.
Harrower’s runner in the lane sparked the deciding run for the Spirit as free throws by Heather Oliver and a jumper in the lane by Madgen at the buzzer made the score 49-42 heading into the fourth.
With the near sellout crowd’s support behind them, Bendigo clicked on all cylinders with Richards and Madgen leading the way. After holding a slim margin for most of the game, a jumper by Kelly Wilson put the Spirit up 64-42 with just over five minutes remaining.
The Thunder did not score its first points of the fourth quarter until there was just 4:45 seconds remaining as the Spirit put the game out of reach and into its history books.
Now, the fourth-year franchise finds itself just one game from playing in the Grand Final as it turns its focus to the Capitals, a team that has had its number so far this season with two convincing victories.
Taking a six-game winning streak into the matchup, though, the Spirit hope that the next result proves to be different.
By Joe Turner, Bendigo Spirit Media