Vikings in the hunt for semi berth
THE Grafton Vikings can wrap up a State League basketball semi-final berth with a win over visiting Sydney team McArthur at the Cage tonight.
The quarter-final is a vital game for both teams, with the winner going straight through to the semi-finals in Sydney on August 4 and 5 in Sutherland.
The loser has a second chance to get through, and the Vikings have the added advantage of having the second chance at home against the winner of Wagga Wagga and Sutherland, a game that will also be played tonight.
On form this year it would be expected that this would be Sutherland.
If the Vikings lose this would mean Sutherland travel to both ends of the state in two weeks.
This will show a Sydney team what we do every week. The Vikings have done everything right this year, after a close call in their first game against Port Macquarie, where they won in extra time and a bad hiccup against Lismore where they lost, but without key players Stuart Tait and Shaun Murphy.
This loss, in hindsight, was the best thing that has happened to the team, as from then on they have been completely focused on the league.
One hard game against Tamworth, in Tamworth, again focused the team on the playoff and Tamworth have proved their form by taking North Sydney to double over time before losing and dropping out of the play offs.
Tonight's game promises to be one of the best games seen in Grafton and could even exceed the semi-final against Hornsby a few years ago that had the crowd baying for more.
This year the Vikings have arguably their best team ever and they now have a couple of big guys who can play in Cameron Fishburn and Murphy, with Jason Bashforth as a more than capable sub for these two.
They will miss the few minutes that Lincoln Burton contributes to the team, as he will be in Tamworth coaching the Under-14 girls, so Tim Blackadder will have to step up into his shoes.
Matt Moran and Tait in the 2-3 spot will hold any players in the league and are both impossible to stop on offence. If Moran gets his outside shot working Campbelltown can kiss the game goodbye.
The Vikings' Achilles heel could be where their strength has been in previous years, the guard spot.
Captain Steve Smith, and Ainsworth will get the ball up the court with no worries and will score their share of the points, but after this the cupboard is a little bare.
If either of these players foul out or get injured the Vikings would have to move either Tait or Moran to that spot and while they can handle it on defence their dribbling and passing skills are not up to the standard of Smith.
The Vikings are primed for a win and have done everything right so far.
Coach Craig Howe expects to win and has stated that eight points will be the margin.
This writer also expects the Vikings to have a win and advance to the easier game in the play off, but expects the game to go right down to the wire with whichever team scores the last basket winning.
This game could be won on free shots. It will be that close. The Vikings to win by three.