By Kate Butterfield
The NBL1 Kilsyth Cobra Men and Women made their 2022 home debut in electric fashion on Saturday night, recording a pair of thrilling come-from-behind victories over bitter rivals, the Knox Raiders.
The crowd erupted after a heart-stopping Cobras 66-64 win over the Knox Raider Men on Saturday night. The Cobra’s Mitch Dielemans had “never heard anything like it before”.
The homegrown hero calmly nailed a free throw and intentionally missed the second with 1.8 seconds remaining of Saturday night’s NBL1 blockbuster, in what the packed Kilsyth stadium believed would steal the win against the rival Raiders. But drama ensured when a foul was called on stalwart Tim Lang, sending the Raiders’ Simon Grant to the line with a chance to force overtime with 0.3 seconds remaining.
Throwing basketball etiquette aside, the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Grant’s miss, which all but sealed the victory for the fired-up Cobras. Grant deliberately missed the second free throw but the buzzer sounded and the Cobras’ faithful raised the stadium roof.
“That was insane,” Dielemans said post-game. “It’s always a big occasion against Knox, and it’s always loud, but that was insane.”
The Raiders ran hot early in the game. Agile Raider Alex Robinson was everywhere and Cobra Adrian Tomada made life difficult for the visitors, while Corey Jeffs picked up where he left off on Thursday night, proving more than a handful for Raiders. But after one period of play, it was the Raiders leading, 18-12.
Jeffs and Dielemans trimmed the Raiders’ lead before import Trey Moses scored inside to put the Cobras in front for the first time. Their lead didn’t last long, though, as Grant drained four triples for the quarter to push the Raiders out to an eight-point halftime lead, 38-30.
Scoring was dried up coming out of the locker room for both teams, with the Raiders taking a nine-point lead into the final stanza. But the Cobras saved their best until the last, with Lang scoring inside and out while controlling the glass to spark Kilsyth’s late surge.
With five minutes to play, and five homegrown Cobras out on the court, the intensity rose to new heights – and so did the raucous home crowd – as Ursich, Jeffs, Dielemans and Nick Feller all scored, to chip away at the Raiders’ lead. The turning point came off the back of a Dielemans’ defensive stop at the Raiders’ end, which Hamish MacDonald capitalised on, deftly tipping the ball in to level the score at 61-apiece and earning an extra chance at the line. The free throw missed, but with less than 30 seconds on the clock, Feller stretched at full extension to tip the ball to Ursich, who then found Dielemans for a go-ahead layup as the Cobras led, 63-61.
The Raiders weren’t finished, and Grant responded with a clutch three with just 10 seconds left to play to reclaim a one-point lead.
But with just seconds remaining on the clock, an unsportsmanlike foul by Alex Robinson on Dielemans sent the young Cobra to the line, and the crowd into a frenzy. Undaunted, Dielemans stepped up and made both baskets, to regain the lead 65-64, with possession to follow.
Dielemans was immediately fouled, sending him back to the line into the high-pressure situation with 0.5 of a second remaining. But Dielemans lapped it up.
“I’m a pretty confident guy at the free throw line,” he said after the game. “When it comes to the clutch, I want to be the one out there on the free-throw line.”
Dielemans’ free throw sealed the 66-64 win for the home team. Jeffs finished the night on a high, with 15 points and a game-high 11 boards. Lang and Tomada had 11 points each; Ursich and Lang chipped in with 10 apiece, and the selfless Tomada added a game-high 6 assists.
Earlier in the evening, the Cobras’ fans had also been treated to a defiant come-from-behind win for the Cobra women against the Raiders, 68-62.
In contrast to Thursday night’s loss to Ringwood Hawks, the Cobras jumped out of the box early. Lauren Scherf dominated in the early minutes, recording an early blocked shot and assist, and nailing a layup and a three-pointer after Sarah Haberfield’s opener, to take the Cobras to a 9-0 lead. Former Cobra Kara Tessari opened the Raiders’ account, knocking in a three on the familiar Hugh McMenamin Court, to stop the Cobras’ run. Tessari was on fire for the quarter and teammate Alicia Froling was crafty inside the paint at both ends of the floor. Cobra Briahna Whatman also found her range, firing 11 points for the quarter, including 3 from outside the perimeter, to lead her team to a seven-point first term advantage, 29-22.
Knox owned the second term, scoring 26 points to the Kilsyth’s 10 to lead 48-39 at half-time, and things appeared grim early in the third quarter, as Scherf was forced to the bench with four fouls. Without Scherf on the floor, the undersized Cobras utilised their speed to slow Froling, with Abi Curtin and new signing Isis Lopes making key plays to pull the Cobras to within 51-57 at the end of three.
Scherf returned early in the fourth but lasted only a minute before fouling out, forcing the Cobras to play small to close the game. Again, Whatman stepped up, nailing mid-range shots with deadly accuracy, and homegrown Cobra Nikita Young hit a three to cut the Raiders lead to a single point. With two minutes on the clock, Whatman completed the Cobra comeback with yet another big basket, and Kilsyth remained in control the rest of the way as they ground out a 68-62 victory.
Whatman finished the game with 22 points and five assists and Scherf, despite her limited minutes, shot 17 points.
The Cobras Women play host to league newcomers, the Casey Cavaliers, this Saturday at the Kilsyth Sports Centre at 6pm followed by the Cobra Men at 8pm.