Bendigo will face Knox in the Eastern Conference Championship game for a second year in a row after scraping home against Kilsyth on Saturday night 70-64.
It was a tale of two-halves as Bendigo, in front of their home crowd for the last time this year, came out the aggressors early in the first to race out to a quick 13-point lead.
While both teams struggled mightily from the field, it was Bendigo’s early dominance on the glass – led by Ivan McFarlin’ s nine rebounds in the first quarter – that gave Bendigo the edge in the first quarter.
Momentum continued in favour of the Braves in the second, as McFarlin continued with a dominant display against Kilsyth’s big’s Auryn McMillan and Tim Lang.
His ability to work with guard Kevin Probert in the pick and roll, coupled with brilliant finishing on the fast-break, saw him end the half with an astonishing 16 points and 16 rebounds.
At the other end Kilsyth struggled to find any rhythm, having as many turnovers as field goals made (seven), and not registering an assist for the half, leaving them facing a 41-21 deficit at the half.
With their season appearing over, the Cobras came out with in the third playing much harder and they began to chip away at the lead.
Early baskets to Tim Lang and captain Quincy Henderson gave Kilsyth some life, as Bendigo started struggling from the floor.
A renewed effort to keep McFarlin under control, with Henderson taking on the tough role of defending him, allowed Kilsyth to govern the tempo of the game.
Despite Lang and McMillan sitting on the bench with four fouls each, Kilsyth managed to bring the margin to 10 points (53-43) on the back of some hard team defence, keeping Bendigo scoreless for a stretch of four minutes.
With Kilsyth having the Braves worried, Auryn McMillan came out early in the fourth to pour in seven points in the opening three minutes, further reducing the margin to six.
Despite their foul trouble, Kilsyth’s big’s continued to play strong defence, with Bendigo struggling to find an avenue to the basket.
With the margin back to just one-point, and a shade over two-minutes to play, Lang was called for questionable travel on an open lay-up. With Bendigo and their crowd visibly shaken, Kilsyth taking their first lead could have been enough to go forth and take victory.
But the defending Eastern conference champions rallied though, with Adam Tanner dropping a wide-open three with under a minute left to give Bendigo a four-point buffer.
Captain Warren Randall calmly proceeded to sink four free-throws in the ensuing 30 seconds to give the home team victory, and an opportunity to defend their East conference championship.
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