T-Birds soar to CBL championship

Champions: Traralgon celebrates winning the Country Basketball League premiership. photograph liam durkin


THE Traralgon T-Birds have a brand new flag to put up in their brand new stadium.
Of all the recent additions to the T-Birds home at the Gippsland Regional Indoor Sports Stadium, a Country Basketball League premiership might just be the best one.
The Traralgon men’s team defeated Warragul in the grand final on Saturday night, bringing to end a 25-year drought in the process.
For Traralgon, victory was made all the more sweeter having taken down an undefeated Warriors outfit.
The T-Birds went into the grand final after ending the home-and-away season in second position. Traralgon lost two matches in the regular action – both to Warragul – although one of those was by four points only three weeks ago.
By ladder position or season domination Traralgon wasn’t the best team in 2021/22, but their previous result against the Warriors showed the gap between the two sides was not at all alarming.
Plus they were in a grand final, and once you are in a grand final – anything can happen.Also working in the T-Birds favour was a home court advantage, and a parochial crowd provided plenty of support throughout the match.

Physicality: Tom Hamilton charges through a Warragul opponent in the decider. photograph liam durkin

The evening didn’t get off to the best of starts for Traralgon, with the women’s team losing 78-67 in their grand final against Wonthaggi.
The T-Birds played catch-up after trailing 18-11 at quarter time, and managed to hit the lead by one at the last break.
It wasn’t to be however, as a final term blitz by the Coasters saw them nail 29 points to 17.
With that result confined to the history books, attention quickly turned to the men’s game.
As players took to their positions and spectators nestled in their seats anxiously awaiting what was to come, the lingering question of ‘has Traralgon earned the right to be here or are they simply the best of the rest?’ hovered around court one.
This question was well and truly quashed within the first few minutes of tip-off.
Spectators barely had time to blink before the T-Birds had 10 points to none on the board – and they just kept going.
Traralgon completely dominated the opening stanza, to the point where every time there was a rebound it seemed someone in a maroon singlet would exit with it, and at the other end of the court, every time there was a jump shot on offer it would go in.
The T-Birds simply could not put a foot wrong, with each basket only adding to a growth in confidence, so much so they probably could have walked on water that’s how well they were playing.
Frazar Brouns was in the thick of it early as the annihilation continued, and as players retreated for the quarter time break, those in attendance were forced to rub their eyes to make sure what they had just witnessed wasn’t a dream.
The scoreboard at quarter time read 27-10.
Yes, 27 to 10.

Top line: Ben Barlow led scoring in the grand final for Traralgon with 26 points. photograph liam durkin

While Traralgon players and coaches might have gone into the grand final confident of their chances against Warragul, surely even they could not have foreseen what was to unfold in the first quarter.
Warragul meanwhile was shell-shocked, and quarter time appeared to act as a chance to gather their thoughts as much as it was an opportunity to discuss a change in strategy.
With the seed of doubt firmly sown, the T-Birds did not let up in the second quarter, and took a 50-28 lead into the main break.
At that stage Traralgon could have been forgiven for thinking they had one hand on the premiership, and a 24-16 third quarter in favour of the Warriors left them starring down a manageable 14-point deficit with one term left in the season.
Traralgon however was able to stave off any thoughts Warragul had of a comeback, and put the result beyond doubt with a 24 to 15 final quarter.
T-Bird players were able to enjoy the last five minutes of the match knowing they had the flag sown up, which gave all players on the team sheet the chance to see minutes out on the court.
The final buzzer showed a 90-67 scoreboard, signalling a first men’s CBL premiership for Traralgon since 1997/98.
If Traralgon players had been burdened by the weight of history leading into the grand final, they certainly did not show it on the day.

Support: A strong crowd came to cheer on Traralgon in the Country Basketball League grand final. photograph liam durkin

Ben Barlow led the scoring for the winners with 26, while Brouns and Christian D’Angelo each had 21. Ever gracious in victory, T-Bird players and officials kept on-court celebrations subdued immediately after the game and throughout the presentations that saw Brouns judged player of the match.
Victorious coach Reece Hamriding proudly accepted the Bruce McDonald Shield, and gave total credit to his squad, saying “all I do is make the subs”.
Speaking amid the delirium after the formalities, Hamriding said even he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing in the first quarter.
“We came pretty locked in and really nervous and I think the nerves just gave us that extra boost to keep us focused … but I definitely didn’t see it coming,” he said.
“It all came down to how the guys approached the game. The week was great, everyone was chirpy and really up-and-about.”
Having secured something that has eluded Traralgon men in the CBL for a quarter of a century, Hamriding said the significance of such a moment would not be lost on the current generation.
“It is massive. Most of these guys weren’t even born (the last time Traralgon won CBL) so to be put in that elite category and Traralgon’s history book is something to be really grateful of,” he said.
“So proud of the group. The guys have been absolutely fantastic. I’m absolutely stoked, it is great, I think anyone in this type of situation you’ve got to always be happy and grateful for what we have achieved throughout the season.”

To the victor go the spoils: Traralgon captain Trent Everett and coach Reece Hamriding get their hands on premiership shield and flag. photograph liam durkin

Hamriding had the honour of leading the traditional ‘cutting the net’ celebration that all championship winning basketball teams undertake, with his troops closely following him to climb up the ladder.
Such an act was perhaps reflective of how far the side had climbed in recent seasons, and just like the net, represented the way in which they had torn the match to shreds.             For Traralgon, it wasn’t a grand final – it was a victory dance.

First dibs: Winning coach Reece Hamriding does the honours of cutting the net, as per tradition for all basketball champion teams. photograph liam durkin
Keeping with tradition: Traralgon’s Christian D’Angelo cuts the net following victory in the Country Basketball League grand final, closely observed by all his teammates. photograph liam durkin
Set: Players get ready to pounce on a rebound in the CBL grand final. photograph liam durkin
Dominant: Player of the match Frazar Brouns during the Country Basketball League grand final. photograph liam durkin
Steady: Traralgon’s Zac Bezzina assesses how to best move the ball forward in the grand final. photograph liam durkin
Crowd favourite: Mason Porykali looks for an option. photograph liam durkin
On my call: Luis D’Angelo runs the offence in the grand final. photograph liam durkin
Extraordinary: Traralgon players and coaching staff can hardly believe their eyes as everything they touch turns to gold in the first quarter of the grand final. photograph liam durkin
Glory: The CBL medals. photograph liam durkin
Well done: Frazar Brouns accepts the player of the match award. photograph liam durkin