By SAMUEL DARROCH
BIGV Division One minor premier Latrobe City Energy will enter the playoffs in its best position this millennium, with a full roster and the promise of a home court advantage throughout the finals campaign.
With top spot secured, Energy enjoyed the bye this week and should have all hands on deck, pending the fitness of Liam Fitzpatrick (hand), for a Saturday night clash in Traralgon against the side that ended its run last year, Mildura Heat.
A regular grand finalist for the past three seasons, the Heat is public enemy number one in the Latrobe City camp, and revenge for last year’s early exit is a priority for the ladder topper.
“If we have to use that as motivation that’s fine, but I think the guys are smart enough and mature enough to know… it might be an individual thing where they’ll look back and think we certainly owe them for last year,” coach Les Stothard said.
As was the case last year, Energy enters the playoffs in league best form, and will draw on the experience of falling short when it counted most.
“I think the guys will have learnt a lot from that, we’ve got a very similar group… the guys are certainly looking back to their experience last year to see where we went wrong and what we needed to do better,” Stothard said.
“Yes, we certainly went into the finals last year full of confidence… this year we haven’t been looking too far ahead it’s been more preparing week in week out… and I think our consistency has shown from that.”
Energy faces two elimination finals, followed by a best of three finals series should it progress through the next fortnight.
If the side reaches the grand final, it would play all but one of its playoff matches at home, with just one of the three deciding ties away.
“Our crowds have been really good all year, so hopefully being a final and the first time the men have played a home final especially, along with the women at home on Saturday night, hopefully we get a huge crowd there and they make it as intimidating as it is to go to Mildura and play,” Stothard said.
Standing in Energy’s path is the only club in the league with two imports, reigning league MVP Calvin Henry and Reggie Fuller, and both Heat men will be closely guarded come Saturday night.
However, Energy can draw on an early season away victory over Mildura for inspiration in a setting Stothard admitted was foreign territory.
“It changes immensely (being in playoffs)… they understand what it takes to go deep in playoffs and we don’t,” he said.
One thing weighing heavily in Energy’s favour is a near flawless record at home, having lost in Traralgon just once through the season to record its best ladder position in recent memory.
“In terms of percentage, win loss record it’s probably as good as we’ve had for 10 or 15 years, but in terms of being on top it’s been some time,” Stothard said.
“I think it just gives us the greatest opportunity of advancing deep into the playoffs; if we can win our remaining home games, we’ll win the title.”
After finishing third on their ladder, the Energy women will also be at home against Mildura for a historic double playoff match.