Wow, what a game the Auckland Secondary Schools Premier Grade semi-final between Westlake Boys High School and Rosmini College turned out to be on Friday night.
It was a game that had outstanding individual performances, two passionate teams, a thundering climax, and all played out in front of two sets of ardent fans that turned North Shore Events Centre into a cauldron of noise and colour.
The crowd, that had partially spilled from the overflowing stands to courtside witnessed a strong opening from Westlake. James Moors and Thabo Manyere provided excellent interior defence threatening every drive and inside shot from Rosmini resulting in just thirty points for Rozza at the interval.
Moors (35 points) had a terrific game blocking shots, snaring rebounds and leading the Lake offensive effort. He had 13 of the Swans fourty points at the break with his sidekick Reuben Fitzgerald, chipping in with 11.
That Rozza were only down by ten points was largely down to Mitchell Dance (36 points) – the dynamo guard had ten points, and countless rebounds at half-time.
Things improved at the offensive end for Rosmini in the third as Dance, Matt Sokol and Marvin Williams-Dunn connected from long range. However with Josh Hidalgo connecting from deep and Lucas Mennenga making a pair of inside baskets the Lake fans were in good voice at the last break as their team led 64-61.
The fourth quarter was an arm wrestle. Williams-Dunn tied the scores only for Moors to restore the Lake lead. Then Dance evened the tie but Fitzgerald wasn’t standing for that as he landed another neat jump shot.
Westlake repelled every Rosmini surge until that man Dance finally gave Rosmini their first lead of the game (70-68) with under five minutes to play.
Rozza, backed by the ‘Faithfull’, were full of confidence and when Kruz Perrott-Hunt stretched the lead to 72-68 the defending champions were bossing the game.
Moors scored on three consecutive possessions but the hyphenated duo of Perrott-Hunt and Williams-Dunn took care of business at the other end 78-72 with 1:34 to play.
With two minutes left Westlake coach Zac Fitzgerald had instructed his players to immediately foul Rozza players on every possession. “We had to stop their momentum and gamble on sending them to the foul line,” he said after the game.
Initially it looked like the ploy had backfired as Williams-Dunn and Rehana Maxwell-Topia stroked home free throws –Rozza ahead 84-74.
What ensued in the final 95 seconds was truly remarkable.
29 points were scored in that time – yes TWENTY-NINE!
Fitzgerald’s’ ploy began to work as not only did his players immediately stop the clock when a Rosmini player gained possession but they also made some stunning plays:
Matt Cairns-Hitta landed a THREE 84-77.
Perrott-Hunt a free throw – Fitzgerald a THREE 85-80 still 50 seconds on the clock.
P-H another couple of freebies – Josh Hidalgo a lay-up 87-82 then Williams-Dunn made two at the line but Fitzgerald made a sideline THREE 89-85 with 30 seconds still to play.
Moors two quick jump shots to cancel out further free throws 91-89.
Williams-Dunn was Mr Consistent at the foul line but remarkably Moors made another THREE to drag Westlake within one – 93-92 but only three seconds left on the clock
As time ran out for Westlake it was fitting that the impressive Mitch Dance dropped the two free throws that ended a magnificent contest won 95-92 by Rosmini.
Both sets of supporters, that were brilliant throughout, were entertained by a stunning game of basketball that neither side deserved to lose.
Rosmini 95 – Dance 36, Williams-Dunn 19, Perrott-Hunt 17, Sokol 14
Westlake 92 – Moors 35, Fitzgerald 23, Hidalgo 9, Manyere 8
The other semi-final did not have the drama of the Rosmini versus Westlake game but it did demonstrate that a healthy Rangitoto College will be a tough assignment for any team, at the business end of the season, as they prevailed 87-74 against regular season champions Auckland Grammar.
Cam Stone is one of those still missing and acting as assistant coach alongside dad Kenny the pair saw their team establish a 26-18 first quarter lead.
Samson Aruwa scored 10 first half points for Grammar but Rangitoto, with Dan Fotu prominent (18 points in the first half) were firmly in control at the interval leading 50-30.
A Thomas Whyte triple and a couple of neat inside baskets fro Anzac Rissetto led a strong comeback from Grammar after the break – a 15-7 run narrowing the deficit to 57-45.
The Stone’s called a timeout and whatever was said worked – the guard duo of Logan Anderson and Harry Clarke pinned a couple of threes and Jarrod Thornton connected with a rolling left hander to take Rangi out to 67-48 at three-quarter time.
Logan McIntosh landed a long three keep the twenty point’s margin (76-56) but Grammar, to their credit, were not finished.
Tom Higgins sprung into action with a trio of triples, LeRoy Brown chipped in with another and Rangi were looking over their shoulders as the lead was trimmed to ten points (78-68) with four minutes to play.
Whyte answered another Anderson three and although Higgins dropped his fourth trey of the game Fotu, Anderson and Clarke held Grammar at bay to ensure another Grand-Final appearance for Rangitoto next Friday back at North Shore Events Centre.
Rangitoto 87 – Fotu 22, McIntosh 19, Clarke 14, Anderson 11
Grammar 74 – Higgins 18, Whyte 15, Aruwa 13, Rissetto 11