HORSHAM Hornets’ men fell painfully short of a Country Basketball League south-west conference premiership on Saturday night.
The Hornets entered the match as favourites against reigning south-west premier Mount Gambier, but could not pull off a thrilling comeback in a 70-67 loss.
Trailing from the opening seconds with stars Cam Bruce, Darcy Tucker and Tim Pickert struggling to find their range, the Hornets looked dead and buried after falling eight points behind with less than two minutes to play.
A corner three pointer from Tucker gave them life, and back-to-back threes from Pickert soon after brought the Hornets within one point as the home crowd erupted.
But their run was too late.
The Hornets fouled Laker Matthew Berkefeld to stop the clock and send him to the free throw line.
Berkefeld missed his first free throw, and the second bounced long off the back of the rim but Horsham was unable to secure the rebound.
Berkefeld retrieved his own miss and was fouled again.
This time he made no mistakes, and his pair of free throws gave Mount Gambier a three-point lead with only seven seconds left.
Pickert got one last chance to send the match into overtime, but his desperation three pointer at the buzzer was off and the Lakers claimed their third consecutive premiership.
Pickert said the team simply did not execute well enough.
“You win some and you lose some, and at the end of the day we probably didn’t deserve to win it,” he said.
“You win some and you lose some, and at the end of the day we probably didn’t deserve to win it.”
“We got a heap of shots near the basket, the ball just didn’t roll our way.
“The Lakers shot about 48 per cent from the field, so you can’t take anything away from them.”
Pickert said the Hornets’ late run gave the team belief, but they left themselves too much to do.
“It was a tough way to lose with a three pointer on the buzzer, but to be honest it probably shouldn’t have ever gotten to that stage.
“You always believe you can come back and we did have a crack at it – you hit a couple and you get your confidence up and the crowd gets behind you.
“The final shot was just a reflex sort of thing and I probably could have passed it to Darcy but I backed myself in to take the shot.
“It missed but that’s just the way it goes.”
Horsham trailed for the entire match as it struggled to put points on the board.
The Hornets connected on only four of their 23 first quarter field goal attempts and finished the match shooting an abysmal 29 percent.
Horsham’s offence missed shots at the rim and settled for outside jumpshots for much of the game.
The team launched 28 three-point attempts, with 14 coming from Pickert.
In contrast the Lakers seemingly could not miss from midrange, with guards Simon Berkefeld and Joe Ferguson-Lane leading the way.
Simon Berkefeld’s 20 points and 14 rebounds netted him best-on-court honours in the final.
Starting Hornets big man duo Stuart Robinson and Jake Hobbs had a slight height advantage over the Lakers.
They showed flashes of brilliance with their high-low post play, but could not capitalise on opportunities near the basket.
Forward Jono Lovel contributed at both ends and was the only consistent offensive performer for the home team.
He finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds on an efficient 5-9 shooting display.
Bruce, who was named the conference MVP after the match, had a nightmare shooting performance but still posted nine assists.
It was the second time in as many seasons the Hornets have fallen just short of a premiership.
The team was defeated in a home semi-final by the Corio Bay Stingrays last year, before the Stingrays went on to lose the grand final to the Lakers.