T-Birds fly into deciders after winning double

Great game: Samantha Labros led the scoring for Traralgono in the semi-final win over Moe. photograph liam durkin


TRARALGON senior men won through to the grand final of the Country Basketball League on Sunday.
The T-Birds won the right to play undefeated Warragul for the title following victory over Maffra in the semi-final.
It was a basketball extravaganza at the Gippsland Regional Indoor Sports Stadium, with the men’s game making up one-third of a triple header that was preceded by the women’s CBL and followed by the Women’s National Basketball League match between Melbourne Boomers and Perth Lynx.
Local players were treated to even more of the usual perks that go with playing finals, as they got to strut their stuff on a fully decked out court that had been meticulously prepared for the WNBL.

Movement: Mason Porykali drives the ball down court in the semi-final. photograph liam durkin

The air of excitement was evident as commercially repeated pop music blared from speakers during the warm-up and players of both teams were introduced, before all in the stadium stood solemnly while the national anthem played, adding to the build-up and the unexpectedness of what the next hour or so had in store.
Appropriately, the unofficial national anthem of Thunderstruck by AC/DC was heard as players went through their final preparations, signalling it was time for tip-off.
With the stage set, players got into their positions with a place in the grand final at stake.
The hype of finals wore off virtually as soon as the ball was thrown up, with players appearing to not be overawed by the occasion.
From there it was business as usual and the match had the makings of a regular season game in the early stages, as blows were traded at either end.
Maffra playing coach James Whelan was busy early, setting up a number of offensive plays.
It was quite a sight to see Whelan go from playing on court to coaching on the sidelines, with his transformation from coach to player at times almost Superman-like when he took off his Eagles shirt unveiling a Maffra singlet underneath once he was injected back into the game.
Traralgon’s Zac Bezzina provided a highlight in the first half with a classy freeze fake, in what saw Maffra take a 34-38 lead into the main break.
The T-Birds broke the game open in the third piling on 30 points to 16.
Maffra was unable to recover from this onslaught, with the final scoreboard reading 89-69.
Traralgon capitalised on its dominance and blew the margin out as the fourth term continued, all the while getting time into its fresh legs once the result was put beyond doubt.
The final buzzer was met with subdued
celebrations from the T-Birds, who will know only part of the job is completed.
Ever the professional, Traralgon forward Mason Porykali, who had missed a free throw late in the match, was seen out on the court practising his free throws after the game.
Sam Whelan did his best to keep Maffra in the contest, shooting 26 points, along with Coby Burgiel, who netted 14.
Ben Barlow led the scoring for the victors with 24, while Frazar Brouns shot 20 against his former team.
Brouns and Eagle counterpart Byron Sandeman shared a laugh in the third quarter after some confusion surrounding a decision saw Brouns cheekily signal for the third umpire ala cricket.

Leader: Maffra coach James Whelan in action during the semi final. photograph liam durkin

Traralgon head coach Reece Hamriding was full of praise for his team post-match.
“First half I think both teams were trying to find their feet, Maffra came out really red hot,” he said.
“The second half, third quarter especially, we nailed it down on defence and got the job done.
“The message at half-time was just about buying in, being about each other, being one unit.
“It was a team approach to get this win.
“We’ll enjoy success where we can but the boys are pretty locked in on the next one.”
With their ticket to the big dance booked, the T-Birds will be pitted against a Warragul team that has swept all before them so far this season.
Although they will enter the grand final as underdogs, Traralgon will carry a home court advantage.
The two teams met only a fortnight ago, with the margin just four points in the Warriors favour.
Hamriding, who is coaching in a CBL grand final for the first time, said the team would enter the decider with a lot of belief.
“We’re just going to come and play our game. Whatever happened in the regular season happened, finals is a whole new ball game, you start at zero-zero in a grand final, there is only one winner,” he said.
“We had our chances (the last time we played them) and just didn’t execute unfortunately – 12 missed free throws played a part – but other than that I thought we had them most of the game.”

United: The Traralgon T-Birds senior mens team come together following their semi-final victory. photograph liam durkin

Warraugl was too strong for Moe in the other semi-final, winning 92-70.
An upset was brewing at three quarter time with the Meteors just three points adrift, however, the Warriors snuffed any chances of this happening with a 29 to 10 last term.
Jayden Van Dyk shot 18 points for Moe.
The T-Birds will also be in action in the women’s final, and will take on Wonthaggi for the premiership.
Traralgon got past Moe in the semi, winning 63-52.
The women’s match followed a similar script to the men, with Traralgon needing to come from behind at half time.
The Meteors lead by four points at the main break, but a 21 to 13 third term meant it was advantage T-Birds.
Samantha Labros shot 15 points for the winners.
Caitlin Demczuk shot 14 for Moe.


Saturday, February 12 at Gippsland
Regional Indoor Sports Stadium

Warragul Warriors v Traralgon T-Birds, 8pm
Traralgon T-Birds vs Wonthaggi Coasters, 5.30pm

Eyes on the prize: Traralgon’s Ben Barlow gets set to complete a lay-up during the semi-final against Maffra. photograph liam durkin
One to go: Traralgon women players celebrate after booking their ticket to the Country Basketball League grand final. photograph liam durkin
Sam Whelan, Maffra Eagles vs Traralgon CBL semi-final 2021/22. photograph liam durkin
Traralgon T-Birds mens head coach Reece Hamriding. photograph liam durkin
Luis D’Angelo, Traralgon vs Maffra, CBL semi-final 2021/22. photograph liam durkin
Ben Barlow, Traralgon T-Birds vs Maffra Eagles, CBL semi-final 2021/22. photograph liam durkin
Shot: Traralgon players celebrate a three pointer during the semi-final win over Maffra. photograph liam durkin
Maffra coach James Whelan. photograph liam durkin
Maffra players Marcus Cope, Coby Burgiel and Byron Saneman celebrate a three pointer against Traralgon. photograph liam durkin
The CBL semi acted as a curtain raiser to the WNBL on Sunday. photograph liam durkin