By Greg Oakford
DESPITE a disastrous stretch of injuries the Knox Ford Raiders men’s team were crowned the SEABL 2008 East Champions.
The Raiders took out the championships after defeating the Bendigo Braves 104-90 in front a 2,000 strong home crowd at Knox Converse Stadium on Saturday night.
Injury had sidelined Paul McMaster, CJ Massingale and captain Glenn Siegle just a month before the playoffs began.
Securing top spot in the Eastern Conference and earning the right to host at least two home finals, both CJ and Siegle made their return on Saturday to the delight of the thousands of screaming Raider fans.
Both started on the bench but provided valuable sparks for their team throughout the epic match.
Lester Strong (19 points, 25 rebounds) opened the night’s scoring with an offensive rebound and put back to the thunderous roar of the home fans.
The first quarter was a back and forth, basket for basket 12 minutes with Nick Payne (30 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists) and Cameron Rigby (24 points, 7 rebounds) the early standouts.
CJ(15 points (2 assists, 2 steals) was substituted after scoring seven early points including a three-pointer.
However, at quarter time it was the visiting Braves who led by four points.
The second quarter saw both teams knuckle down on defence but the Raiders cut the lead and headed into the main break down two.
Coming out of half-time, it was the Braves who got the jump on the Raiders early and stretched their lead to eight.
But like coach Graham Longstaff’s chargers had done the previous few weeks with their backs to the wall, they found a way to claw their way back.
The Raiders shifted momentum in the last three minutes of the third quarter, as a forced steal from the efforts of Siegle (4 points, 3 assists, 2 steals) and Sean Carroll (11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) end in a Siegle lay-up on the buzzer to put the Raiders ahead by one.
It was the Raiders game for the taking now and they would not be denied the chance to celebrate a championship with their home town fans. It ended with a Siegle lay-up from a Craig Simpson pass from a stacks-on pack in the middle of the Bendigo foul-line.
The Raiders will now travel to Geelong this Saturday to face off against the Hobart Chargers at 7.30pm for the overall SEABL Championship.
The Charges upset the Frankston Blues for the SEABL South title in Frankston.
The winner then earns a semi-finals place in the Australian Club Championships to be held at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre on 30 August.
By Greg Oakford