Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Shepparton Gators take out All-Conference Finals

A dominant defensive performance from Shepparton Gators has led to the team taking out this year's All-Conference Finals in Bendigo.

DAMEN FRANCIS February 18, 2014 4:51am

Shepparton Gators broke through to win the Country Basketball League All-Conference Championship, one week after winning their third straight north east conference title.

It was third time lucky for triple Country Basketball League north east conference champion Shepparton Gators at the All-Conference Finals in Bendigo last weekend.

The Gators beat south west conference winner Mount Gambier Lakers in Sunday’s final to put an exclamation point on an incredible three seasons.

In typical Gators fashion, the performance was built on a foundation of solid defence, with guard Matt Waight’s job on Lakers star Simon Berkefeld drawing particular praise from coach Russell Parker.

‘‘It was pretty special,’’ Parker said.

‘‘Berkefeld is a special player and to keep him to 16 points was terrific.

‘‘As a team it was a good defensive effort and without doubt that was the reason for us winning.’’

The CBL All-Conference Finals pits the three conference champions against one another in a round-robin format, with the top two to play off for the championship.

The Gators kicked things off with a 72-70 win against Gippsland title holders Churchill Blue Devils on Saturday and when Berkefeld’s 41 points led the Lakers past the Blue Devils a few hours later, the final pool game between the Gators and Lakers was declared a dead rubber.

‘‘The management approached us and said because it was a no-count game we could either play and wear everyone out then come back the next day and do it again, or stay fresh and play once,’’ Parker said.

Parker said the Gators were out of sorts against the Blue Devils, but Matt Bartlett’s 25 points ensured they remained in control of the game.

Nicholas Michaelides’ late three-pointer made the scoreboard more flattering for Churchill, which had Jordan Canovan’s 26 points to thank for keeping it within reach of the Gators.

The Gators had their game faces on for Sunday’s final and put the clamps on the Lakers’ offence after half-time, holding the south west powerhouse to just 19 second-half points in a 70-56 win.

Bartlett maintained his offensive hot streak with a game-high 26 points, while centre John Woodcock dropped 16 and point guard Tom Frame 14.

‘‘Offensively we struggled at times,’’ Parker said.

‘‘We’ve still got some work to do with our consistency of shooting from our guards and small forwards, we seem to either be really good or really bad.

‘‘Tom Frame chipped in with some big baskets when it mattered and he’s looking better every week, so I’m happy for him.’’

With Shannon Ralph and Nick Dodd to return from injury and Ian Wright to come in and Tom Crowe, Lachie Cooper and Aaron Fry given court time in Sunday’s decider, the signs are promising for the upcoming Big V season.

The Gators will have a week off before trials begin next Tuesday.

A squad is expected to be finalised the following Saturday, ahead of the annual Big V pre-season competition in Frankston on March 8 to 10.

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