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Ngati Porou make it three in a row

Ngati Porou could not have won last night with five players.

The greatest women's team in the history of the Gisborne Basketball Association proved, with a championship-tipping cameo by Talon August, that they could win the A Grade club title with six.

For the third year in a row, they beat Lytton High School in the big one at the YMCA and — on this occasion — 42-31.

Ngati Porou captain Bronya McMenamin and her incredibly durable crew again proved their will to win it all and complete their third unbeaten season since 2014 and their sixth title in the last seven years.

McMenamin said: “Lytton have a great foundation, loads of talent and that game was as fast as I'd thought it would be - too fast, at times. To play a semi-final with five, then win it with four and win the final with six - I'm proud of my girls.”

Lytton led the defending champions 24-16 at quartertime but their opponents were 26-16 up at the split and 32-23 ahead going into the fourth period.

Ngati Porou and the Amoe Wharehinga-led Lytton played last night's final at breakneck pace in a thrills and spills spectacle worthy of a season during which players, officials, spectators alike came to appreciate sport and community that much more.

“We were strong in the first half,” said Wharehinga. “They've got great experience and played really well. We did our best too.”

Lytton coach deputy principal Marama Henwood recognised the commitment shown by her young team: “We made them work for it. Our girls never stopped running.”

Powerful Ngati Porou forward Te OriwaTuipulotu-Collier led all scorers with 16 points, her captain and teammate Jayda Waititi-Leach both putting up 10 points, while Wharehinga also produced 10 and LHS forward Piper Donaldson came to the party with eight points.

The hard-nosed Donaldson has been a good player for a long time now and her physicality may become legend, in terms of the way she takes the ball to the basket. In terms of ball-handling, Waititi-Leach amazed the crowd last night: the tiny guard simply could not be contained, dribbling rings around everyone else on the floor.

Lytton's Lindsey Pomana opened the scoring to end a crazy sequence. Ngati Porou's Tiara Weir airballed a three-point shot attempt, Tuipulotu-Collier dived over the baseline to bat the ball back in, the younger team snatched said loose ball and raced downcourt. Ngati Porou then made a steal — lost the rock — and Pomana steamed to the hoop for 2-0.

Almost the entire first half was played in that spirit.

Early in the second quarter, Maia Rickard made an incredible defensive stop against Wharehinga — in the fifth minute, quiet achiever Alicia Kepa came from nowhere, took an offensive rebound and scored from the put-back in astounding fashion to draw LHS within two points of the lead: LHS 14, Ngati Porou 16. Jody Tarsau-Walters and Reremoana Bartlett-Tamatea both made big tough shots in the third period - Tarsau-Walters v Waititi-Leach in the key, Bartlett-Tamatea on the left baseline.

Through all of the drama, great players refused to relent: Tuipulotu-Collier took the battle to Lytton inside but it was from 15 feet - with one minute and nine seconds remaining in the fourth period - that she dropped the hammer: a jumpshot from the right-wing for 39-29.

With 3.23 seconds left, Waititi-Leach - who led Lytton to the 2017 championship - gave a great assist to Weir, under the ring, left side, from the right sideline for 42-31.

Ngati Porou won last night's A Grade final on incalculable reserves of courage. August hustled as well as anyone else on the floor: her seven-hour, same day trip from Wanganui by bus and valuable minutes on-court, constituted a gem for the champions.

Referees Ethan Ngarangione-Pearson and Reg Namana were both - as they had been in the B Grade final - excellent value.

They dug very deep last night.

SE Systems were superb last night against a Manu Toa team who refused to hand them the B Grade title.

The Lily Sparks-led SES won the final 40-18 but - despite the 22 point-differential - knew by game's end at the YMCA that they had been in a scrap.

Sparks said: “We played very well tonight: we ran our system, we scored off those plays. We're really tired now, but that's what happens when you play defence with only one sub.”

Her opposite, 13-year-old Taimarie Matahiki, led Manu Toa's scorers with eight points.

“We knew that it was going to be a hard game but just being in the finals was a huge accomplishment for us because we're a young team,” said Taimarie. “For us, that final was about enjoying our last game as a whanau.

Congratulations to S.E Systems on the win: we'll see them next year.”

Systems led 11-6, 25-12 and 34-15 throughout the a game which Lily's younger sister - Jasmine, 15 - took by storm. She led all scorers in both women's finals with 19 points, her teammate Stephanie McClutchie (nine pts) amongst it on the backboards at both ends of the stadium.

Matahiki scored her team's first field goal against two taller defenders but the best play before quartertime was the SES captain's assist to McClutchie as she cut to the basket for 8-2. Manu Toa scored the last two field goals of the second period, their skipper flying to finish the break for 10-25 and Te Amo Te Rauna-Lamont's jumpshot on the money for 12-25.

Lead official Ethan Ngarangione-Pearson made the comical call of the night, a prolonged smother (technically, a push) by McClutchie on Manu Toa's Te Ataakura Swannell-Kaa on the left baseline four minutes into the third quarter.

Swannell-Kaa scored five points, Te Rauna-Lamont picked up steals in all four quarters: Manu Toa did exceptionally well to make the B Grade final and be as competitive as they indeed were. The women's B Grade and split men's B Grade is a very good thing for the future of Gisborne Basketball, allowing players to develop at a good level with a real chance of success.

Basketball Womens Final - Ngati Porou v Lytton - Tiara Weir, Jayda Waititi-Leach, Amoe Wharehinga
Basketball Womens Final - Ngati Porou v Lytton - Bronya McMenamin, Tiara Weir, Maia Rickard, Jayda Waititi-Leach, Talon August, Te Oriwa Tuipulotu-Collier