The Platinum Homes Taranaki Thunder claimed the inaugural D-League championship with a 78-68 victory over the Rotorua Lady Geysers at Pulman Arena on Sunday.
A stirring contest, in which the lead changed hand no fewer than fifteen times, had many outstanding performers.
For the Geysers, Awatea Leach scored 20 points, Waiata Jennings had 19, Dekoda Roberts hit 11 and Alyssa Webster finished with 10.
The Thunder enjoyed terrific contributions from Vanessa Weir (14 points), Gemma Walsh (12 points), Caitlin O’Connell (10 points) and Raquel Sampson (eight points and 12 rebounds).
However, the standout performance came from teenage forward Lauren Tewhata who amassed 20 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
In a game of fluctuating fortunes, Weir posted the first point of the game and Walsh made the opening three as the Thunder forged an 8-4 lead.
The inside battle between centres Sampson and Dionne Martin was an interesting sideshow to the main event – Sampson with six rebounds in eight minutes, but she also headed to the bench after picking up a second foul.
O’Connell put the Thunder ten points ahead, but that was almost erased by quarter-time – Taranaki 18-17 ahead at the break.
Excellent ball movement enabled Jennings the opportunity to give the Geysers the lead, Roberts adding to the lead with a score in transition. Leach was the first player in double figures before Tewhata tied the game at 29 points all with a corner three.
Alix Blyde careered into the media area and Tewhata demolished a side-line advertising hoarding as the players demonstrated their commitment to retaining possession.
The Thunder grabbed the lead via captain Weir, but it was wrestled back by Webster who dropped a buzzer-beating three to take the Geysers to a 38-35 halftime lead.
The second half started badly for Taranaki with playmaker O’Connell hitting the bench after joining Sampson on four fouls.
15-year-old Tewhata and Weir filled the void admirably, but Roberts tied the scores (47-47) halfway through the third. An end-to-end third quarter concluded with a 10-3 run to give the Geysers a 59-54 lead.
Teghan Omelvena-Ngatai dropped consecutive triples as the Thunder scored eight unanswered points to start the final period.
Jennings stopped the run with a jump shot from the elbow, but Sampson returned to give the Thunder a 69-63 lead with under four minutes to play. O’Connell made a classy reverse shot that was countered by Jennings – Thunder 74-65 ahead with 2:30 to play.
The Geysers couldn’t come up with the answers in the final couple of minutes. Fittingly, standout young gun Tewhata iced the game from the foul line to give Taranaki mentor Josh Reeves, vying for the Best Dressed Coach Award, and her team a well-deserved win.
Thunder 78 – Tewhata (20 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks), Weir (14 points), Walsh (12 points), O’Connell (10 points), Sampson (8 points and 12 rebounds), (Omelvena-Ngatai 8 points)
Lady Geysers 68 – Leach (20 points), Jennings (19 points and 9 rebounds), Roberts (11 points), Webster (10 points), Martin (8 rebounds)