A TIM Gainey steal with seven seconds to play sealed Warrnambool Seahawks’ first Big V finals win in three years on Saturday night.
The veteran forward thwarted Chelsea Gulls’ last-ditch attempt to score, pinching the ball at mid-court before throwing it into the air to celebrate the Seahawks’ thrilling 68-65 quarter-final triumph.
The come-from-behind victory — after being 11 points in arrears at quarter-time — was played out in front of a large and vocal home crowd at the Arc.
Warrnambool will now play La Trobe City Energy in an away semi-final next weekend after it knocked out Mildura Heat.
Seahawks coach Bobby Cunningham was elated with his inexperienced side’s performance.
“That’s something those guys that played in that game tonight aren’t ever going to forget. Their first final, at home and they win,” he said.
“That crowd was awesome. That’s what we sort of expected.
“I think there would have been at least 600 to 700 people here.”
The game ebbed and flowed in momentum.
Chelsea defied the hostile reception to race to a 9-0 lead in the first term as Warrnambool suffered a bout of nerves.
The Seahawks fumbled and wasted opportunities and the Gulls took a 24-13 lead into the first break.
But Warrnambool’s character shone through in the second period and within three minutes teenager Jeremy Bolden had tied the scores at 24.
Justin Wallace, who hit four clutch three-pointers, gave the hosts the lead for the first time with two minutes to play in the first half.
Wallace was also important after the main break and tipped in the last score of the third quarter, tying the game at 52-all.
Chelsea grabbed the lead back at the start of a pulsating final term.
Damian Gray, who was fouled out late, stepped up to play a crucial role, while Wallace was again dangerous from long range.
Five time outs were called in the last 90 seconds as both sides tried desperately to grab an advantage.
The Seahawks had a one-point lead with 11 seconds to go after Chelsea hit one of two free throws.
But forward Liam Killey was fouled and made the most of his visit to the charity stripe, dropping both his attempts.
Gainey, the game’s top-scorer with 17 points, then grabbed the important final steal as the home crowd erupted.
Cunningham said he and assistant coach Craig McLeod were proud of the Seahawks’ composure under pressure.
“I was nervous the whole game and Craig and me were trying to settle each other down, laughing and joking on the bench,” he said.
“(Wallace got) clutch threes and big free throw at the end, Liam Killey got his two free throws at the end to help seal the deal and then Tim with the big steal at half court — game over, let’s advance to the next round.” Cunningham said it was a dramatic finish.
“This is probably the first time (this season) we’ve called all of our time outs, so Craig and myself had to coach tonight,” he said. “I think we earned our money tonight. Little strategic things — when to press, when to call it off.
“We held a team that averages up to 85 points to 65 so we done a great job defensively and we live to fight another day.”
Veteran Simon O’Keefe was instrumental in the win, with his 15 points complementing his strong defensive game.
He had 15 rebounds and three steals. Gainey had nine boards and three steals to go with his 17 points. Cunningham said the pair were a steadying influence on their younger teammates and helped the side lift after its shaky start.
“The guys picked up their defensive principles and defensive pressure,” he said.
“The ball started to fall for us and once we got our noses back in front I think we saw the finish line and we were able to get key stops when we needed them.
“It was a great team effort (but) Simon and Tim — the old heads — led from the front and didn’t let us get rattled.”
Development players Bolden and Sam Gray weren’t overawed by the occasion —they had time on the court in the intense final term.
“Those young boys have been good for most of the year but there is a pecking order in a basketball team and they still have to wait their turns,” Cunningham said.
“There is going to be some times where they don’t play and that happened this year but we felt (tonight) that we needed some energy, we needed somebody out there who could cause some havoc and Jeremy came in and scored four points and grabbed a couple of rebounds and Sam made some smart plays and put pressure on defence as well.
“I think it was a total team effort tonight.” The Seahawks’ semi-final is on Saturday night.