Townsville Fire surge to title after grounding Flyers

Darren Snowdon |

Steph Reid (r) scored 20 points for Townsville Fire in their 82-69 victory over the Flyers.
Steph Reid (r) scored 20 points for Townsville Fire in their 82-69 victory over the Flyers.

Townsville Fire have stormed to the 2022/23 WNBL championship after coming from behind in the fourth quarter to defeat Southside Flyers 82-69 and complete a 2-0 grand-final series sweep.

The Fire closed Wednesday night’s game two match-up at Melbourne’s State Basketball Centre with a 25-13 fourth-quarter effort to secure their 16th consecutive victory and cap their barnstorming run to the title.

Steph Reid (20 points) and Grand Final MVP Tianna Hawkins (18 points) led Townsville’s late-game charge to secure the North Queensland franchise’s fourth national league championship.

“This team is the closest and the best group of people I’ve ever been with. I’ve just never played with a team that have genuinely got along so well,” Reid told ESPN moments after the Fire wrapped up the championship.

Back at the scene of their thrilling one-point victory over local rivals Melbourne Boomers in the deciding game of their semi-final series, Southside fell behind early but valiantly battled back to grab a five-point lead in the final quarter.

But just as it seemed the series would go back to Townsville for a winner-takes-all game three, the Fire surged to the front with a 9-0 run and were never headed thereafter.

Captain Rebecca Cole’s 26-point haul was not enough to inspire the Flyers as their quest for a second championship in three seasons came to a disappointing end.

Southside looked to the experience of forward Abby Bishop to provide an early boost in the do-or-die clash and the 34-year-old former league MVP delivered with 10 points in the opening quarter.

But Shyla Heal made her presence felt by coming off the bench to hit a pair of long-range buckets and help the visitors edge ahead 24-18.

Nyadiew Puoch sparked Southside at the start of the second period and with star Fire import Hawkins sent to the bench with two fouls, the Flyers stepped up defensively and Cole ended the half with a flurry of baskets to cut Townsville’s lead to 41-39 at halftime.

Cole’s hot hand continued after the main break as she capped a personal run of 13 straight Flyers points with a three-point play to level the scores before Kayla Thornton converted a lay-up to hand Southside a narrow lead.

But Townsville hit back by holding Southside scoreless over the last three minutes of the third quarter to take a 57-56 buffer and set up a thrilling conclusion in the final period.