Ipswich's mighty Force stopped in final seconds
IPSWICH'S gallant women fell one victory short of reaching the state league grand final they richly deserved to play in.
However, no-one could fault the effort and desperation of the Force players as they hung tough, still a chance of winning until the final 10 seconds.
"They are all disappointed but an amazing season,'' head coach Brad George said after Force's 89-84 semi-final loss to Southern Districts Spartans last night.
"We have got three players over 25 and the rest are 18 or below, so an amazing effort and they never quit.''
In a seesawing struggle worthy of semi-final status, Force and the Spartans were locked together 24-24 at quarter-time before Ipswich edged ahead 51-44 at halftime.
After an extended break due to some scoreboard technical glitches at Llewellyn Stadium, the third quarter was another enthralling battle. Ipswich held on to a 71-70 lead heading into the final term.
However, the experienced Spartans slowly gained the upper hand late in the match, clawing ahead 85-83 with just over a minute left.
Force players Amanda "AJ'' Johnson and Rachel Mate put their bodies on the line, being bowled over in their attempts to reach the basket.
That came after Ipswich's European import Gintare "Gigi'' Mazionyte produced one of her most committed games of the season. Gigi lifted Ipswich to a new level in the second and third quarters going on to top score with 26 points.
"It was very physical down the stretch,'' George said.
"The girls gave everything.
"Unfortunately the bounce of the ball and a couple of things just didn't drop.''
Force's gallant quest to make the grand final was with only five seasoned players and exciting youngster Catherine MacGregor. Ipswich recently lost other valuable bench players like Meg Essex, Kate Head and Loie Webb to overseas commitments.
"Losing four players from your line-up makes it hard to get there and win so I'm proud of everyone,'' George said.
"They (Spartans) are the champions and just a couple of turnovers cost us late.
"Overall it was a great game of basketball. It was back and forth. Both teams shot the lights out.''
Johnson is now heading to Sydney to join the Flames in the Women's National Basketball League season.
George was delighted with the commitment AJ gave the team all season.
Fellow import Gigi is heading back to Europe on Wednesday.
Force's other regulars like Mate, Georgia Williams and captain Bree Farley can enjoy a well-deserved break.
As for his future, George is not contracted next season. He will wait and see with a third child on the way.
"I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet . . . I might have a break,'' he said, hoping the core group of players can return next season.
George has played a tremendous role over the past six years nurturing junior talent and guiding his teams to the finals every year.
Even though making a grand final against Mackay was Ipswich's previous best effort, George praised this year's combination for their spirit in finishing the regular season in second place with just two losses.
"It was a great season, just the way they fought every game,'' he said. "They just play hard for each other and are there for each other.''
Like his players, George deserves the highest praise.
QBL semi-final: Southern Districts Spartans 89 (Ashley Taia 23, Ambrosia Anderson 19) def Ipswich Force 84 (Gintare Mazionyte 26, Amanda Johnson 17, Rachel Mate 15) at Llewellyn Stadium.
Other semi-final: Townsville def Rockhampton 111-63.
Spartans to play Townsville in best-of-three-grand final series.