Launceston has earned a home preliminary final by stunning previously-unbeaten title favourites Bendigo in Victoria.
The Tornadoes’ 84-77 win came without the help of Opals guard Lauren Mansfield, who had been expected to return, leaving league MVP Lauren Nicholson to again play a starring role.
Nicholson sunk a game-high 34 points and a team-high 11 rebounds to outshadow Braves stars Nadeen Payne and Kelly Wilson, who were both impressive with 37 points, 19 rebounds and 17 assists between them.
Ally Wilson also played a pivotal role with 23 points and four assists, dropping seven of 12 from three-point territory, while Courtney Williams contributed 10 points and eight rebounds from 23 minutes of court time.
Set the task of ending Bendigo’s 20-game winning streak, Derrick Washington’s charges made a blistering start.
The Tornadoes raced to an 8-24 first-term lead on the back of some blinding long-range shooting from Nicholson and Wilson, who hit four three-pointers in little more than two minutes.
A 9-0 surge late in the second term gave the Braves their first lead of the match but the Tornadoes weren’t intimidated, recapturing the ascendancy early in the third and holding it for the remainder of the match.
Bendigo had its chances in the final term, cutting the lead to three with four minutes to go and seeing Ellie Collins fouled out two minutes later, but Nicholson and Ali Partridge held their nerve from the line to see out a famous victory.
Elphin Sports Centre will host Launceston’s preliminary final on August 11, while Bendigo will host a knock-out semi-final against Geelong on Saturday.