SEIZE the day.
That is the simple message Newcastle Hunters men’s coach Darren Nichols will stress to his players before their Waratah Basketball League semi-final against Manly Warringah Sea Eagles at Hills Basketball Stadium on Saturday.
Three Hunters teams are chasing titles at Hills this weekend – the senior men and women and youth league division one men. Nichols and retiring captain Josh Morgan are trying to lead Newcastle to their first men’s championship since winning the Basketball NSW Premier League in 2000.
If successful against the Sea Eagles at 5pm on Saturday, the Hunters will play the winner of Saturday’s second semi between Norths and hosts Hills Hornets in a 4pm title decider on Sunday.
Spear-headed by Morgan, Waratah League Most Valuable Player Austin Thornton and fellow American Sharif Watson, the Hunters qualified for the finals in top spot with a 17-3 record but split their regular-season meetings with Manly, so Nichols is taking nothing for granted.
Recent history also haunts them as the Hunters were beaten grand finalists on their own floor in 2011, were minor premiers the following season but stumbled against Sydney Comets in the semi-finals at Maitland, then again lost to Sydney in the semis at Terrigal in 2016.
“We’ve been here before and come up short. It would be nice if we can go out as winners for Josh but our aim is to beat Manly, simple as that, so we’re not even thinking about Sunday,” Nichols said.
“Manly are very talented ... we’ve got to deal with Manly first, then we can worry about what happens after that.”
Newcastle’s last loss was against Manly on July 14 but they were without veteran Ben Hawkesley, who had a calf injury, and rallied from a 24-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter to go down 79-77.
“All the talking’s done now,” Nichols said.
“We’ve talked all season about getting to this position and we’re here now so there’s no ‘what-ifs’. We’re where we want to be, and it’s up to us to make the most of this opportunity.”
The Hunters women’s team will start underdogs in their 1pm semi-final against minor premiers Norths on Saturday but believe they have a psychological edge over the title favourites.
Newcastle are coached by former Norths mentor Shannon Seebohm, who engineered a 67-53 upset at the Bear Cave on June 30.
“We are very excited about this weekend. The team has really committed to improving each week since we started back in January, and I feel we have made a lot of progress with how we play the game,” Seebohm said.
“Our defence has become a real strength of ours ... the team who plays with discipline and effort will earn their spot in the grand final.”
The winners play either Hornsby or Sutherland in the decider on Sunday.
Newcastle will play minor premiers Central Coast Crusaders at 11am on Saturday in a division one youth league men’s semi-final, chasing a grand-final berth against Penrith or Manly.
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