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Ballarat storm into East Conference top four
The Ballarat Miners defeated the Nunawading Spectres on Saturday night, capping a four-game winning streak that has catapulted them into fourth position in the East Conference with a game to play.
Prior to Round 15, the Miners were struggling for consistency and sat three wins behind Nunawading in the race for the last finals spot. A 12-point defeat to Albury-Wodonga followed and an almost perfect run to end the regular season was required.
Their renaissance began the next day as they squeaked past Frankston before turning the competition on its head with consecutive Round 16 victories over the Centre of Excellence and the Dandenong Rangers. That 17-point trouncing of third-placed Dandenong sent a statement to the league that Ballarat was not done with but a further challenge came this weekend against the Spectres.
Jumping out of the blocks, Ballarat led by 11 at the first change and 14 at half-time but Nunawading dug their heels in, reducing the margin to just one with a quarter to play. Their comeback was short-lived however, out-scored 24-9 in the final term while shooting 4-16 to lose by 16 points.
Against the mighty front court of Simon Conn and Adam Ballinger (a combined 27 points and 15 rebounds), Gregory Thondique dominated with 11 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 20 and 15 boards. Since arriving mid-season, Thondique has recorded five double-doubles while shooting 48% to bolster the Miners' forward stocks.
Roy Booker, who continues to lead the competition in scoring with 25 a game, has led the charge with an average of 27.5 points and 6.2 assists in his past four games while Anthony Fisher has chimed in with 15.8 and 7.8 rebounds.
Nunawading must now defeat the league-leading Mt. Gambier Pioneers in the final round and hope Ballarat falls to Kilsyth (who booked fourth position in the South Conference this round).
Mt. Gambier's 17-game winning streak did come to an end on Friday night and as they cannot fall out of top spot, their mind may already be on the playoffs but Ballarat should have done enough on Saturday to ensure a second straight finals appearance.