Sturt has booked a preliminary final spot by a single basket, as Woodville took it up to the home side in front of a vocal crowd.

Sturt Sabres 71 | Woodville Warriors 69

Woodville had the better of proceedings early, getting a number of open looks as they swung the ball effectively around the arc. Nelson Kirksey was in excellent touch, helping the Warriors to an early lead with 11 first quarter points.

Sturt coach Paul Rigoni was visibly agitated and stressed in no uncertain terms that the defensive effort had to quickly improve from his players. Back to back three’s from Jack Turnbull and Daniel Johnson got Sturt within touching distance, but it was still a 4 point lead to Woodville at the first change, 22-18.

After reacting strongly to a poor first quarter, Sturt set out to quickly redeem their performance. Isaac White and Jacob Rigoni were instrumental, driving hard to the basket and giving a must needed energy boost to the Sabres.

When Josiah Lee picked Kirksey’s pocket and finish off a solo effort, Sturt had the momentum and a strong 7 point lead. Kirksey continued to look ominous however, answering with a long effort from range.  A strong block from Johnson on the stroke of half time was a highlight, getting the crowd on their feet and ensuring Sturt went into the main break with a 4 point lead, 41-37.

The third stanza started in tense fashion, with both sides struggling to get their shots to fall. Rigoni continued to make the most of his opportunities, especially from the line, scoring a perfect 9/9 across the night. Strong rebounding from Woodville big men, Luke Stanbridge and Adam Miller (10 rebounds, 8 points), were giving the Warriors ample opportunity but things looked difficult going forward.

At the other end of the court, sharp shooting from Turnbull (5/7 from the field) and Rigoni at the line, helped Sturt to a 10-0 run and an 11 point lead at the final change. Sturt looked in the box seat to take this one, spurred on by an encouraging home crowd. 

Woodville weren’t going down without a fight, knowing that their season was rapidly slipping away. Successive stops gave the Warriors belief, with Daniel McKee and Nelson Kirksey nailing a couple of crucial jumpers, cutting the margin to just 4.

Stanbridge (11 rebounds, 10 points) provided some strong defensive presence, culminating in a block and assist to Kirksey to tie the game up, 60-60. The Warriors had swung the momentum firmly their way, with Sturt making a number of errors including a shot clock violation and sloppy travel.

Isaac White proved a cool head late on, arresting Woodville’s dominance, with successive lay ups- Sturt holding a narrow 1 point lead as the game entered the final minute.

Sturt had increased that lead to 3, but overzealously fouled the Warriors giving Kirksey an opportunity at the line and the ball back. Kirksey could only make one, leaving the Warriors needing a bucket to take the game to overtime. Sturt forced the Warriors into low percentage opportunities and despite a number of shots, Woodville couldn’t make an elusive final basket.

Isaac White was best for the Sabres with 19 points and 9 rebounds, complemented by a strong showing from Jacob Rigoni (15 points) and a handy Jack Turnbull second half (14 points). Nelson Kirksey was dangerous all night, collecting a game high 30 points for a gallant Warriors side.

Sturt would be hoping to limit their costly lapses, as they face a strong Norwood side in this week’s preliminary final, hungry after a loss to Southern.

By Sam Phillips

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