Kasey Cornwell, caught up with Eric Hayes and Chris Smith in the lead up to the SEABL South Conference Final.
The Conference Final against Dandenong this weekend, is the Miners first appearance at a Conference Final since 2001, and that was when Head Coach Eric Hayes suited up.
Coming up against a tough side, the Dandenong Rangers, who have a 16 – 8 record this season, only below Ballarat on the ladder, due to Ballarat’s superior head to head record. The in form Dandenong are coming off two playoff wins, and are shooting the ball well, 61% from the field, 14-24 from beyond the arc in last weeks game against Hobart.
In their previous encounters, round 15 saw the Ballarat Miners hold their home court advantage over Dandenong beating them by 13 points. Marvin King-Davis was outstanding with 33 points and Ash Constable made 20 points in the win. Garett Jackson top scored for Dandenong with 27 points.
In round 6, the Ballarat Miners travelled to Dandenong and were 16 point winners. Pete Hooley was impressive with 25 points, 8 assists. Davon Usher had 20 points, with 5 rebounds, while Craig Moller top scored on 27 points.
On that occasion, Ballarat were able to keep Lucas Barker to only 4 points, shooting 2 from 11. Dandenong’s top scorers in the first clash were Brennan McElroy with 25 points and Joshua Oswald on 24 points.
Preparing for a final, this time as a coach, Hayes said there were some similarities within the preparation, focusing on the fact that there is nothing new to introduce. To “make sure that everything that we do, were doing it more consistently and just that little bit better and simply going a little bit harder. Just working a little bit better together,” is all-important leading into the final, said Eric.
As a player, Eric was focused on getting some shots up, still getting to the gym and making sure you are eating and resting well during the week. This was important to him as a player, and he is instilling these values in his team, this finals campaign.
Hayes said he wont know the full benefit of having the week off, until they are all on the court, but with a few small injuries to sort out, he was pleased to have that week off. “It was nice to have that time off, to just focus, rest their bodies a little bit and even give their minds a bit of break as well.”
Hayes noted that while Craig Moller is clearly an asset to the team, being without him for the Conference Final should have no impact, he said it strengthens his belief that you win as a team, and it “means that guys now have a chance to step up do a little bit more than what they’ve done in previous games, which is great and we trust that the team can do that.”
Chris Smith, in his last home game for the Miners noted, “obviously Craig is a big part of our group, but we’ve performed without Craig in the past when he’s had other commitments. The last game we played against Dandenong we were without him and Pete Hooley and we were able to get the job done, just by working together as a cohesive group”. Playing as team is the vital element to getting the win, and Smith said they wouldn’t be making any excuses, “we’re coming to win a basketball game.”
Reflecting on the win over Hobart in week one of the finals, Hayes said we started the game really poorly, but we certainly improved – we had a poor first quarter and then after that we probably played some pretty good basketball, and pretty consistently. So, the Miners are being guided to “start with some real energy and focus on what we need to do”, said Eric, that way if the team gets off to a great start and we do those things and we’re clicking, then it’s a bit easier to flow on and get up for the rest of the game. We don’t want to start off poorly and then have to fight to get ourselves back into it, said Hayes.
“We want to win this conference championship” said Hayes, it would be an awesome reward for the work the guys have put in, “but it’s not going to be given to them, they are going to have to go out there and fight, we are single minded about what we need to do, and that’s play a great game against Dandenong.”
The players have noticed a lot of excitement in the air, with the Mars Minerdome sold out and being the Miners first conference final for a very long time, but Chris Smith noted that while there is lots of excitement around, there is also “a lot of focus getting ready for the challenge ahead” from the team.
Playoffs are an exciting time at the club, but Smith is remaining grounded, he said “You have to take it week by week. Otherwise there is no game next week – The main focus is Dandenong, nothing else, whatever happens in the other game happens but it won’t matter if we don’t win this weekend.”