Launceston Tornadoes hold off Ballarat Miners in a dramatic last call

PAINED: Launceston Tornadoes stand-in skipper Lauren Nicholson works at a frantic rate during a dramatic close to the clash with Ballarat Miners. Pictures: Phillip Biggs
PAINED: Launceston Tornadoes stand-in skipper Lauren Nicholson works at a frantic rate during a dramatic close to the clash with Ballarat Miners. Pictures: Phillip Biggs

A prolonged referee call that was also followed by a further tense wait on court after Saturday night’s final buzzer handed a depleted Launceston Tornadoes a fifth victory on the trot.

But the thrilling 73-72 win against Ballarat Miners at Elphin Sports Centre came about amid controversial circumstances for the visitors.

One late foul committed on towering Miners centre Joy Burke was later cancelled out after the three referees went into private discussion before later consulting with their bench officials.

The opportunity to go to the line for two free throws was waved away that brought on raucous cheers from the partisan hometown crowd.

STANDING TALL: American-raised, Taiwanese-born Joy Burke towers over Tornadoes guard Emma Haywood moments before the Rush centre's dramatic role in the finish.

STANDING TALL: American-raised, Taiwanese-born Joy Burke towers over Tornadoes guard Emma Haywood moments before the Rush centre's dramatic role in the finish.

Shocked Ballarat players stood for more than a minute with their hands on their hips, but iconic Miners figure and coach Eric Hayes refused to remonstrate over the call.

Hayes’s Launceston adversary Derrick Washington felt it was the right decision.

“Look at the end of the day, when it’s the last play like that, normally a ref will not make that call and let it play out,” Washington said.

“It was zero-zero left when they blew the whistle [for the foul] – I knew that. I was confident it would go our way.

WISE HEAD: Ballarat Miners coach Eric Hayes hands out some advice during a time-out against Launceston.

WISE HEAD: Ballarat Miners coach Eric Hayes hands out some advice during a time-out against Launceston.

“I really can’t complain. You only just need one point more to win a game.”

The dramatic ending overshadowed the Tornadoes’ gritty fortitude that Washington also said had his players “go down like flies”.

In the absence of captain Lauren Mansfield, in which Washington opted to rest her sprained ankle, and after the decision to not add a last import to the roster, star Lauren Nicholson with a game-high 18 points was fouled out with 83 seconds left on the clock. 

But the coach was not terribly concerned and felt he had an ace up his sleeve.

“I knew we still had Ally Wilson and could sub her in,” Washington said.

“So Ally came in, we lead at that stage, she was able to drive to the basket and we got the foul call.

“It’s what went down and it’s what she does. She knows how to be real smart, she’s a WNBL veteran, she’s an awesome player and she stepped up when we needed her.”

Wilson’s two foul shots – the last scores of the night – regained the lead with just 16 seconds in the game.

ON THE RUN: Tornadoes teenager Paige French dribbles past defence on the attack.

ON THE RUN: Tornadoes teenager Paige French dribbles past defence on the attack.

But in Mansfield’s absence, Washington could point to two diminutive talents.

Guards Paige French and Aishah Anis stood up off the bench in the time of need.

Latrobe-raised French shot 11 points, including a treble of vital three-pointers.

The 16-year-old Anis came of age in a tough initiation where she was monstered late in the game, but pulled through with 14 points.

FAIR CALL: Tornadoes coach Derrick Washington appeals to the referees.

FAIR CALL: Tornadoes coach Derrick Washington appeals to the referees.

“Paige French was huge – she hit some big shots right at the beginning and she held her own,” Washington said.

“Aishah was also huge with all her points. They stepped up and placed those points Mansfield normally scores.

“That’s what we needed and we had that sort of mindset coming in. 

“I just believe in all my players – they’ve got a lot of heart and they’re willing to fight through adversity.”