Waikato win Women’s Under 23 Championship

Dominating performances from Kelcy Ballantyne and Kendell Heremaia, both forwards recording double doubles, carried Waikato to a 64-50 victory over Otago in the Women’s Under 23 Championship game in Tauranga on Saturday.

Threes on consecutive offences from Brittany Richards and Aleisha Ruske gave Otago an early 6 points advantage.

A Chelsea Savage triple plus a Heremaia reverse layup cut into the advantage but Otago led 14-12 at quarter time.

Eight points from Stirling Walker-Pitman and a brace of put backs from Ballantyne propelled Waikato to a 24-20 lead – Otago coach Natalie Visger deciding a timeout was prudent.

Richards made a deep two on the resumption but Walker-Pitman sunk her second triple of the game to keep Waikato ahead. Jeanie Pattison penetrated for a basket and Nicole Ruske made a triple as a free flowing half ended with Waikato 31-29 to the good.

The hard working Heremaia began to exert domination on the boards at both ends taking her rebound tally into double figures. Her efforts set up Ballantyne for an easy basket to take Waikato to a double digit lead.

Ballantyne made it three straight baskets to extend the lead to 45-33 and when Heremaia demonstrated her all round ability with a three Waikato were in total control.

Pattison broke an 8-0 Waikato run with a trey but the Heremaia /Ballantyne combination worked again as Waikato led 54-39 at the conclusion of the third period.

Otago needed early points in the final quarter and Aleisha Ruske obliged with a three but points were becoming hard to come by for the Blue and Gold’s. Krystal Leger-Walker, departing for the University of Northern Colorado on Monday, showed her qualities with a basket, block and assist on consecutive plays to extend the Waikato lead to 60-41 with 4:37 to play.

Otago never gave up trying, despite being without injured forward Zoe Richards, and Nicole Ruske and Brittany Richards made long shots count but the strong Waikato perimeter defence limited Otago’s opportunities and played a major part in carrying them to a deserved victory.

Waikato coach Anthony Corban was pleased with his team’s defensive effort.

“It’s the focal point of our rep programme and you saw today that we really just wore them down. It took us three-quarters of the game but eventually we just ran them off the court.”

Corban also complimented the performance of his captain Krystal Leger-Walker who claimed her fourth national title in the past 18 months.

“I have always thought she was Tall Ferns material from the first time I saw her play. Today it wasn’t so much the scoring it was the assists, the defensive rebounds and we know Northern Colorado are getting a very good player,” he said.

Leger-Walker modestly pointed out that Kendell Heremaia was a huge influence in the game.

“She was awesome, she always comes out to play, she is a beast, you can’t stop her. We’ve played together for the last two years and we work well together. She knows where I will be and I know exactly where she will be – she’s just so nice to play with and she was probably the difference that got us over the line today.”

Final Score: Otago 50 – Nicole Ruske 20, Richards 11, Aleisha Ruske 8, Pattison 9 Waikato 64 – Ballantyne 17/10, Heremaia 12/15, Walker-Pitman 10, Leger-Walker 8/14

In the Women’s 3rd/4th play-off game North Harbour defeated Tauranga City 91-55.

Referees – Apai Apai (Hawkes Bay), Rhys Hamilton (Auckland), Tayla Ammunson (Auckland)

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