Local youngsters Abbey Wehrung and Kasey Burton stepped up for an undermanned Integra Ballarat Rush on Saturday night to claim an 84-81 victory over Albury-Wodonga at the MARS® MINERDOME.
With Steph Cumming out with a dislocated finger, and Sophie Alexander out due to a shoulder injury, the Rush were missing key components to their roster and were going to rely on their younger players to step up to the task. Wehrung and Burton gladly accepted the challenge, both playing big minutes and doing exceptionally well to help the Rush to a victory.
The game was a close one throughout its entirety, with neither of the two teams really being able to pull away to gain a considerable lead. With scores tied at 38 going into halftime, it looked to be anyone’s game, and neither team wanted to let go of control.
The Lady Bandits, who are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, came out strong, well-prepared, and intent on pulling out a victory. Forward Emilee Harmon caused trouble for the Rush all night, finishing the game with 24 points at 53% shooting (9-17) and 15 rebounds—scoring most of her points in clutch moments of the second half—and was able to keep the Lady Bandits competitive the entire match. Rachel Maenpaa was also valuable for Albury-Wodonga, as her athleticism and ability to play multiple positions on the court made it difficult for Ballarat to organise defensive match-ups. Maenpaa had a solid game, with 15 points, six rebounds, and four assists.
While a technical foul in the fourth quarter by Lady Bandits center Lauren Angel would help the Rush to a 10-point lead with three minutes left in the game, Albury-Wodonga would not let up, and fought themselves back into the game, getting within three points with 26 seconds left, forcing Ballarat into a timeout.
A strategic foul by the Bandits would send Wehrung to the line, where she would convert, and put the Rush ahead by four. A quick score by Albury guard Sophie Kleeman would get the game back within two, but the Rush would hold on to get the win.
Wehrung was the clear MVP for the Rush, scoring 27 points, grabbing five rebounds, and shooting an outstanding 100% from the free-throw line (10-10) including six of six in the final term. She led the offensive charge, and also had the difficult task of containing Albury-Wodonga’s young gun, Montana Farrah-Seaton. Nya Mason was a dominant force in the paint, scoring 18 points on 55% shooting (6-11), and grabbing seven rebounds. Burton, in her first start of the season for the Rush, impressively answered the call to step up. Burton was an aggressor on offensive, and was able to convert 9-10 from the free-throw line and contribute 15 points to the winning effort.
The Rush head to Tasmania where they will take on the Hobart Chargers and the Launceston Tornadoes in a double-header weekend, but return to the MARS® MINERDOME 17 May where they take on the Frankston Blues from 6pm.