PENGUIN’S 18-year premiership drought is officially over after the Blues came from the clouds to win a drama- filled NWBU women’s grand final against Latrobe last night in Ulverstone.
Spurred on by a sickening head injury to Hayley Shephard early in the third quarter, Penguin rallied behind its young star to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.
Penguin players celebrate their grand final win. Pictures: Stuart Wilson.
The Demons appeared as though they would coast to victory when they led by 17 points at half-time.
But the 15-minute break in play in which Shephard was stretchered from the court and taken to hospital after a heavy fall, galvanised the underdogs.
The Blues cut the deficit to just six points at the final break courtesy of 12 three-quarter points from star drive-in Lauren Mansfield.
Mansfield, who had an opening half well below her lofty standards, then found a new gear in the final period to literally will her club to its first women’s premiership since 1996.
She hit another 10 points on top of hauling in seven rebounds to steer Penguin home by five points, 75-70.
Teammate Danielle Dunstone also rose to the occasion after a cold start to the night, chiming in with 11 last-quarter points in a term that had a total of seven lead changes.
Penguin officials confirmed after the game that Shephard was conscious and talking, and she was taken to hospital for precautionary reasons.
“The injury to ‘Shep’ was pretty frightening and we had to get the girls away from it,” Blues coach Damon Kingshott said post- match.
Penguin’s Hayley Shephard on the floor.
“But it was at that time our leaders Danielle, Bre [Breanna Russell] and Tamika [Medcraft] got together and said `let’s do this for Shep now’.
“And grand finals are built on things like that. They’re built on emotion and it was a pretty special comeback by the girls.”
Latrobe’s experienced heads guided the club to a 40-23 buffer at half-time, with import Kathleen Scheer leading the way with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Penguin was struggling from the floor, converting on only 8 of 43 field goal attempts.
But while it seemed to the casual onlooker that the result was all but a formality at the main break, Blues coach Kingshott said he knew his troops had what it took to fight back.
“We had come back from large deficits a couple of times throughout the season, so we had the belief we could do it,” he said.
“At half-time we just spoke about taking the deficit off in small pieces. We knew if we could get it [the deficit] under 10 at three-quarter time then we were a big chance.
“The crowd came into the game in the last quarter and we started to feed off them with every point we scored. In the end I think I was probably the biggest cheerleader for us.”
Mansfield finished with 27 points, 22 rebounds, six assists and four steals in a best-on-court performance.
The Demons were gunning for their sixth grand final win in eight seasons, but will be left to rue “the one that got away” after letting their big half-time advantage slip.
Latrobe coach Bruce Robinson said the long break in play when Shephard left the court didn’t help his team’s cause.
“That kind of stopped our momentum a bit and we had to start again,” he said.
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