Waikato secure second final’s berth at U23’s

The second Women’s semi-final at the 2016 Under 23 National Championships in Tauranga was between North Harbour and Waikato.

Krystal Leger-Walker and Tiarna Clarke exchanged triples and a spin drive from Alyssa Hirawani, with 6 points in the quarter, took Waikato to a 22-16 quarter time lead.

Forward Zhanay Hettig made the opening basket of the second for Waikato, Georgia Perrott-Hunt replicated for Harbour.

A third foul on Akiene Reed didn’t help the Harbour progress, coach Justine Reed needing a timeout with her team 29-23 behind.

An arching Hettig baseline two extended the Waikato advantage to double figures, 33-23. Back to back baskets from Chelsea Savage increased the Waikato advantage further to 37-25 at half-time.

Tall Fern Leger-Walker, heading to the University of Northern Colorado on Monday, led all scorers at the break with 13 points closely followed by Clarke (12 points).

A Clarke three brought the Otago lead back to ten but Waikato’s offensive rebounding, aggressive defence and Leger-Walker’s finishing were all troubling Harbour. A series of free throws, primarily from Reed, kept Harbour in the hunt but trailing 50-42 at three-quarter time they still had plenty to do.

Another Clarke three helped Harbour’s chances although a neat pass from Kendell Heremaia set up Hettig for a simple deuce.

A Savage three restored Waikato’s double-digit advantage and an easy Heremaia lay-up took the lead to 61-49 necessitating a Harbour timeout with 5:21 to play.

A falling lay up from Hirawani almost clinched the game but a pair of Clarke threes kept Harbour’s remote chances alive – 65-55 with under three to play.

Ella Fotu scored to take Harbour within 8 points followed by a Reed And 1 play 66-60 with just over a minute to play.

It became 66-62 after an Annabelle Jenkins transition basket but the nerves were settled on the Waikato bench by a Savage basket.

A Fotu three was too little too late as Waikato deservedly moved into the final.

Final Score: Waikato 69 – Leger Walker 21, Hirawani 16, Hettig 12, Savage 10

Harbour 65 – Clarke 26, Reed 16, Fotu 12,

Earlier in the first semi-final Otago, despite missing the services of Zoe Richards after breaking her leg in the final pool game against Waitakere on Thursday, proved too good for Tauranga City. The injury has occurred 6 days before Richards and twin sister Brittany return to Gillette Junior College in Wyoming.

Nicole Ruske opened the scoring for Otago with Mikayla Daysh replying immediately for Tauranga.

Daysh scored the first nine points for the hosts as they led 22-12 at quarter time.

A long three from Renee Bennett was sandwiched between triples from Brittany Richards and Aleisha Ruske as Otago closed to within 6 points, 27-21, – home coach Rachel Gwerder calling a timeout.

Courtney Wilson scored after the timeout but a couple of fouls by the experienced Tauranga guard presented Otago with a couple of visits to the charity stripe accepted by Richards and Aleisha Ruske.

Daysh led all scorers at half-time with 20 points but Otago had closed the gap trailing by a single point – 30-29.

An early second half trey from Richards propelled Otago into the lead for the first time in the game, 41-38. A tight third ensued with no more than a single basket separating the teams a floater from Aleisha Ruske keeping the southerners ahead 45-42 at the last break.

The Ruske sisters exchanged baskets with Kaatia Watene and Wilson but neither side could grasp a telling lead although an Aleisha R put back gave Otago a 60-55 lead with 4:30 tp play.

Cairyn-Marie Rogers made it a single possession game with a three but a finger roll basket from Olivia O’Neill forced a Tauranga timeout – the hosts trailing 58-53 with 3:20 to play.

The Tauranga cause was hampered with Daysh and Briarley Rogers fouling out on consecutive plays and with Jeanie Pattinson making a basket Tauranga were facing a challenge trailing 60-53 with 2 minutes to play.

Otago were able to snare a couple of important offensive rebounds to take time off the clock and when Cairyn-Marie Rogers fouled out Tauranga were forced to play the last 90 seconds with just four players.

Final Score: Tauranga 55 – M Daysh 32/12, C Wilson 7, K Watene 6 Otago 65 – A Ruske 24, N Ruske 15/11, B Richards 11, J Pattison 8

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