Teenage star Shyla Heal led her Townsville Fire team to the WNBL grand finale and showdown with Liz Cambage’s Southside Flyers on Sunday.
19-year-old Heal had 28 points, five rebounds and two steals when Fire scored a 65-62 win over Melbourne Boomers in Townsville on Friday’s pre-finals.
Boomers center Ezi Magbegor (19 points, nine rebounds), also only 21, almost forced her team into an unlikely extension with a key basket in the final seconds and a three-point shot that was missed in the last game.
Shyla Heal says Townsville will step into the grand finals as an underdog on Friday night despite her performance. Photo credit: Ian Hitchcock
Both sides looked energetic on a marathon schedule of 14 games, but Heal was a force, especially after the break, as she not only scored 19 of her 28 points, but also found ways to find or regain additional possessions Ball for your team.
« It’s so exciting, the girls were really good, we all worked as a team, and they’re such a tough team, » Heal told Fox Sports.
« I can’t believe we’re in the grand final on Sunday. We’re going to go in as underdogs and try to beat Southside. «
Magbegor said her boomers were dying to make the decision after falling short in the semifinals for the past two seasons.
« We know we’ve been there for the last few years [in the final] and this has been a big game for us.
« We wanted to get it, not just for this team [but] for the past few years. A shot counted, but unfortunately it couldn’t fall. «
The Boomers’ efforts could not be faulted and Tess Madgen, Cayla George (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Magbegor went out of their way to get their team back into the competition last season but they couldn’t find them last points that are needed for victory.
One thing all Australian fans can get out of this game and this finals series is that both Heal and Magbegor will be founding members of the Opals for a long time. Both players will also be in camp with the team as coaches Sandy Brondello is bringing their players together in January to look forward to the Tokyo Olympics.
Before that, Heal and the Fire, who finished last season, will have one more shot at the star-studded Southside team, which starts as favorites but doesn’t stop Heal or Nicholson as both in the big semifinals could scored over 30 points.
The Fire controlled much of the first half on Friday but Melbourne continued scrapping and making every basket difficult, leaving the Fire only 33-29 ahead at half time.
Heal and Magbegor both picked up in their third term, but it was Heal who burned the hottest, drove twice to the left-handed basket and drew the foul while also finding her shooting game outside.
Heal even channeled her dad and the great Australian Shane Heal when she ripped the ball out of Magbegor’s hands after a defensive rebound and then did a cheeky reverse lineup.
With this flood of healing baskets, the fire’s lead increased to seven points, but the boomers went back to their bench. Kiwi veterans Toni Farnsworth and Kalani Purcell came into play, but more baskets from Heal (12 points for the quarter). and Zitina Aokuso saw the fire 54-47 going into the fourth quarter.
Magbegor’s 90-second block on Heal resulted in a lay-up from Maddie Garrick that reduced the lead to three points, but both Magbegor and Garrick failed to convert their final three-point shots and left fires to win the game to fetch.
The WNBL Grand Final will take place on Sunday at 3 p.m. AEDT between Southside Flyers and Townsville Fire at Townsville Stadium.
Townsville Fire, Women’s National Basketball League, Melbourne Boomers, Liz Cambage, Kate Gaze
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