United States calls after Ipswich's fantastic final win
VALUABLE Ipswich Force product Meg Essex returns to the United States this week having benefited from time at home and helping her team reach the state league semi-final.
Essex, 21, played an important role in Ipswich's 95-72 Queensland Basketball League quarter-final win over the Mackay Meteorettes at Llewellyn Stadium on Saturday night.
She finished with 12 points in her last game for Force before rejoining her Newberry College team in South Carolina.
"I knew this was coming,'' the Marburg-based basketballer said, set to fly back to the US.
"I'm excited we got the win tonight.''
Essex was glad she rejoined the Force team in June, after finishing her third year at Newberry College.
"It's been good at this stage of the season,'' the former West Moreton Anglican College student said.
"Getting the fitness up and just shooting and stuff, getting in the gym and all that.''
The determined centre's latest performance against Mackay backed up her standout game against the same team late last month. Force beat the Meteorettes 88-63 on the road.
"I enjoy playing them,'' she said.
Essex will complete her teaching studies in the US while fulfilling her fourth year Newberry College playing commitments.
As for her Ipswich teammates facing Southern District Spartans in this weekend's semi-final, Essex offered some welcome support.
"Just keep doing what you are doing,'' she said.
Ipswich will host the Spartans in what shapes as a classic QBL semi-final duel on Saturday night.
The fourth-placed Spartans joined Ipswich in the second round of playoffs after eliminating fifth-placed Sunshine Coast Phoenix 89-64 on Saturday night.
The winner of this weekend's semi will battle for state league honours in a best-of- three grand final series.
Force captain Bree Farley led the way against Mackay with six three-pointers in her 20 point haul.
She was well supported by Essex and Force's other regular players Georgia Williams (20 points), Gintare "Gigi'' Mazionyte (20), Amanda "AJ'' Johnson and Rachel Mate.
Having to manage their fouls with a depleted bench, all the Force players were exceptional.
"It was pretty similar to what we did when we were up there (in Mackay),'' head coach Brad George said. "We took them out of what they want to do and we hit some shots.''
George was thrilled to see three players score 20 points, highlighting the team bond.
"That's a great effort,'' he said, also praising acrobatic regular top scorer Amanda "AJ'' Johnson for her 17 rebound contribution.
"We didn't need her to score (her usual 25-30 points) tonight. That's the good thing.''
Force maintained a healthy lead throughout the game after breaking away to an early 11-2 advantage following three-pointers by Farley and Williams.
The 24-10 quarter-time lead quickly blew out to 45-21 by halftime before a concerted Ipswich effort in the third term boosted that to 72-38.
The three points flowed at that stage with Mate, AJ, Farley, Gigi and Essex exerting their scoring authority.
Williams was also rock solid before earning a rest.
The reliable Mate guided Force home as young players Cassie Poulain, Emilie Tahata and Brooklyn Betham gained some valuable minutes at the end.
"We just knew we had to get it done,'' George said. "I would have been really disappointed if after such a good season, we lost this week.''
George said the focus this week would be managing training before having a shot at the Spartans, which have added depth.
"We'll go out there and have a crack,'' he said, preparing for Ipswich's first home semi-final in QBL history.
QBL quarter-final: Ipswich Force 95 (Bree Farley 20, Georgia Williams 20, Gintare Mazionyte 20) def Mackay Meteorettes 72 at Llewellyn Stadium.
Semi-final: Saturday night at Llewellyn Stadium - Ipswich Force v Southern Districts Spartans.