The Taylor Bay Hawks did just enough to secure the last spot in tomorrow's Grand Final, taking down both the Rams and the Horncastle crowd in a 74-68 victory.
The Horncastle crowd wanted a fast start from the Rams and they delivered to their delight. Emmett Naar opened the scoring and he was followed by nearly all of his team's rotation.
Ethan Rusbatch has always put it on for his family and friends at home and the marksmen took little time to introduce himself to those in attendance. The guard dropped nine points in the opening exchange off a pair of threes, but he and the Hawks still found themselves behind 23-19 quarter time.
Back-to-back scoring possessions in the second put the Hawks back in front, with EJ Singler cutting inside for two and Rusbatch splashing home another triple. The Rams struck back when Taylor Britt laid the ball home and Naar found the bottom of the net from deep.
A two-minute dry spell ensued before Brandon Bowman rattled off seven straight points and drew his team level. Blows were traded in the closing moments, with only one point separating them on the half's final possession. The Naar fed Alex Talma with time expiring and the big man's hook shot swished through the net at the buzzer. Advantage, Rams, at 39 to 36 at the interval.
The Rusbatch and Bowman tandem continued its dominance into the third, with the pair scoring half of their team's points in the quarter. Singler, who appeared to be struggling with a nagging injury, injected himself in the play and added an extra four to his side's total.
Naar separated himself from the herd out of the half, creating for himself and his teammates to keep the Rams in pole position for the majority of the period. A Singler layup tied the game for what seemed to be twentieth time and the two teams headed into the final 10 minutes all square.
The Rams scored first out of the fourth quarter blocks, but that lead was short-lived as the Hawks went on a 10-run and turned what was a two-point difference into an eight-point lead.
This was answered with back-to-back-to-back threes from Cam Gliddon, Tony Tolovae and Naar, making it a one-point game in the host's favour. Four straight points followed for the Hawks before an offensive foul was called on Gliddon, who shoved Singler off the ball on his way up the court. The Rams skipper also received a technical for questioning the referee's call.
Free throws from Dion Prewster, Rusbatch and Man of the Match Bowman brought the game to a close, locking in a Grand Final between the Cigna Wellington Saints and the Hawks tomorrow evening.
Hawke's Bay Hawks 74 Canterbury Rams 68
Hawks - Brandon Bowman 26pts, & 10rbs, Ethan Rusbatch 20pts, 9rbs & 4ast, Jarrod Kenny 7pts, 7rbs & 7ast.
Rams - Emmett Naar 17pts, 4rbs & 7ast, Isaiah Wilkins 11pts & 9rbs, Luke Aston 11pts & 4ast.
Stats That Matter - While both teams struggled to find their stroke from deep, the Hawks shot an efficient 53% from inside the arc. It was the same old story for the Rams, who again struggled to score the ball as well they defended, with only managing to convert 37% of their shots worth two.