It seemed unlikely that anyone could have seen how this gold medal game ended, for the Under-14 Club Championships in Ballarat. It was a blow for blow struggle late in the fourth quarter, followed by overtime chaos. The game ultimately went in the favour of the Hills Hornets, who won the game 52-49 in no easy fashion against the title favourite Magic.
But Hornets coach, Dave Hayman saw the potential, and earmarked their goals at the start of the year: the team was to aim for Sydney, state, and the national title.
“I knew from the outset that we had some very talented players,” Hayman, who also plays for the Hornets at the Waratah League championship division, shared. “We also had a couple of new players who developed during the year and contributed in a big way. We worked hard on getting the basics right because offence may win games but defence wins championships.
“We also built a real trust between the players and coaching staff so that when we see what’s going on during the game, we can give an instruction and they just inherently know what to do.
“My guys play for each other. There’s no egos on this team, they all wanted to win, for the team and they have done it. We couldn’t be more proud.”
Despite early nerves, the Hornets played their brand of team basketball well, with excellent ball movement that saw them match the Magic right into the closing minutes, in no small part thanks to Bailey Thom, who ended the match with 25 points.
“Come on. You can do this, only three minutes left to go. Don’t give up, this is all about your mental strength.”
Going into overtime, Hornets player, Ashton Pahanel received those words of encouragement from his coach, and found the strength to push past his back pain and keep playing. The battle went back and forth, right until a key moment arrived.
“With a minute and a half to go, [teammate] Andrei [Honrada] stole the ball,” Pahanel remembers. “All I knew was to run and hopefully get the ball for a fast break layup.”
All he could think of, was to make that layup and put the team ahead by two – hopefully for the win. Despite being fouled, Pahanel made the layup, falling to the ground hard. Most importantly, he didn’t give up.
“The crowd, my coaches and my teammates gave me that drive and fighting spirit to continue and finish the game on a big win.”
An annual event that’s held each year with the top 24 boys and girls teams, the U14 National Club Championships played out in Ballarat, VIC this year. Teams are split into two categories: championship (top 12), and shield (lower 12) after the first round.
The Hills Hornets took championship gold, a step up from their 2016 silver medal, with the Hawthorn Magic placed second. The Northside Wizards (QLD) defeated the Southern District Spartans (QLD) and took the championship division bronze medal home for the boys’ team.
The Hawthorn Magic, despite losing in the gold medal game for the boys’ division, took home the gold with their girls’ team against the Melbourne Tigers, 44-26. Magic leading scorer, Georgia McBean ended the game with 18 points. Last year’s girls champions, the Gold Coast Wave (QLD) took the bronze medal.