The Cockburn Cougars are one win from history now having beaten the Rockingham Flames 80-66 at a sold out Wally Hagan Stadium on Saturday to set up a home preliminary final this coming Saturday night.
For the first ever time, the Cougars women finished the regular season in top spot with the 18-2 record to set up Saturday night’s qualifying final at Wally Hagan Stadium.
The opponents were a Rockingham team who finished in fourth position at 14-6 having also won 14 of the last 17 matches coming into the finals so it shaped as a fascinating match up.
Throw in the fact that new Cougars import Patty Brossmann was up against a Flames team she played with last season and it only added to the intrigue.
It didn’t take long for Cockburn to get rolling with the home team having opened up an 11-point advantage by the end of the first quarter.
The lead for the Cougars grew to as much as 15 points in the second stanza but the Flames fired back leading into half-time to cut that advantage for Cockburn to 38-33 at the main break.
It became a defensive grind in the third quarter with Cockburn outscoring Rockingham 13 points to nine, but the Cougars dominated the early parts of the final period to open up the match-winning 25-point lead.
Cockburn would go on to win by 14 points from there to book in a home preliminary final against either the Joondalup Wolves or Mandurah Magic this Saturday night.
On the back of being named to the All-First Team, Sarah Mortensen continued her scintillating form for the Cougars by producing another 27 points, 17 rebounds, three steals and two assists on shooting 11/21 from the field.
Steph Gorman added 21 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals, Jessie Edwards 14 points, 13 boards, four assists, three steals and two blocks, and Jewel Williams 13 points and five assists.
To see the game plan out so well from a Cougars perspective certainly was pleasing for coach Tyrone Thwaites.
“It probably played out how we hoped it would play out,” Thwaites said.
“It pretty much went according to the script, so it was about staying connected to Kraker and Samuels all night, with Jessie being used as an extra help person. Really we wanted their role players to win the game for them, and unfortunately for them (Rockingham) that didn’t happen, so we did our job well.”
Understandably it was a nervous week leading into the qualifying final just to wait and see if the Cougars’ outstanding regular season form could translate into the finals up against a strong Rockingham outfit.
However, by the end of the night what Cockburn did to shut down the Flames’ guns was outstanding especially keeping Mehryn Kraker to 12 points on 5/10 shooting and Casey Samuels to four points on 2/11 shooting.
“It was terrific and there was a lot of nervous excitement going into the game on Saturday night,” Thwaites said.
“I certainly felt that and I think the playing group did too, but as the week played out there certainly was a growing confidence the plan was the right plan, and they were confident and trusted each other. It really played out that way too on Saturday night and gives them a lot of confidence heading into this week.”
While the numbers that Mortensen put up were once again remarkable and become all the most impressive when you consider that she was well under the weather, she was far from the only big time performer Thwaites wanted to acknowledge.
What Gorman did to not only have the 21 points, three boards, three assists and two steals herself, but also to limit Kraker to the 12 points on 10 shots was outstanding along with Patty Brossmann and Kirsty Whitfield combining to limit Samuels to four points on 2/11 shooting.
“To be fair to Sarah, she had a tough first half too and couldn’t buy a bucket, but she was as sick as a dog and no one would have realised that. She was super sick on Saturday night so what she was able to do was phenomenal,” Thwaites said.
“But taking nothing away from Sarah, Steph was just amazing for us. Her impact at both ends was enormous and she made Kraker work for everything. I think Mehryn had six points in the first quarter and then six for the following three.
“Between Steph’s job on Mehryn and both Patty and KP’s job on Casey Samuels, that was huge for us. Casey scored the first two points of the game for them and had two points for the remaining three quarters.
“That was someone who is a top 10 scorer in the league and arguably the best three-point shooter, that’s a huge effort. I’m really proud of those three with the way that they kept it together, along with how Jessie provided the support from a help point of view.”
It was a night to remember all-round at Wally Hagan Stadium on Saturday with the sold out crowd getting right behind the Cougars, and Thwaites expects no different now this Saturday in the preliminary final.
“It was a pretty special night. It was really exciting and when the girls were getting called out onto the floor and having the crowd roar, it gave me goosebumps,” Thwaites said.
“It was something we hadn’t experienced before at that level and they certainly loved it. We’ve now already sold out for the prelim so we know it’s going to be the same sort of vibes this Saturday night against Joondalup or Mandurah.”