Flyers oust Boomers to advance to WNBL grand final
The Southside Flyers have advanced to their second WNBL grand final in three seasons after notching a thrilling 73-72 win against the Melbourne Boomers in Game Three of their semi-final series.
Sara Blicavs (14 points) was strong early in Wednesday's epic derby at the State Basketball Centre, before Maddi Rocci (14) came up huge in the clutch to secure the 2-1 series triumph.
Import Tiffany Mitchell (23 points) shrugged off a poor first half to almost drag the Boomers over the line, while league MVP Cayla George (22 points, 13 rebounds) was inspirational in defeat.
Down by a point inside the last 30 seconds, George's errant inbound pass for Mitchell sailed out of bounds before Melbourne had one last shot to keep alive their bid for back-to-back titles, only for Leilani Mitchell to miss the go-ahead trey inside the last two desperate seconds.
Star import Kayla Thornton, who missed Game Two with an ankle injury, made her presence felt early by scoring the Flyers' first five points, before Blicavs took control at both ends.
The Tokyo Olympian masterminded an 11-2 run which lifted Southside to a 16-15 advantage at the end of a scrappy, nerve-filled, first-quarter arm wrestle between the arch-rivals.
Carly Ernst came off the bench to score eight points in the second term to stretch the Flyers' cushion to 38-32 at the main break.
Captain George scored 10 of the Boomers' 17 second-quarter points while teammate Mitchell, the league's top scorer, was held to just two first-half points on 1-of-11 shooting thanks to Bec Cole's unrelenting defence.
Mitchell exploded back to form after the interval, pouring in nine points in just over three minutes as the Boomers edged back in front.
The lead changed hands six times during a pulsating third term which Southside, paced by Blicavs and 18-year-old reserve Nyadiew Puoch, finished with a 10-0 burst to lead 56-51 at three-quarter-time.
Melbourne looked like seizing control in the fourth through the brilliance of Mitchell and leadership of George, who swatted Blicav's three-point attempt and nailed a monster three of her own.
But they had no answers for pint-sized Rocci, who connected on a series of drives, drew a crucial offensive foul and buried a massive triple inside the last minute to give Southside the edge.
The Flyers will take on Townsville Fire in the best-of-three grand final series starting on Saturday.