Illawarra Kittyhawks dumped out in semis

Kittyhawks skipper Lauren Sparks shot 15 points despite her team's 87-65 semi-final loss to the Panthers. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Kittyhawks skipper Lauren Sparks shot 15 points despite her team's 87-65 semi-final loss to the Panthers. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

BASKETBALL

The Illawarra Kittyhawks' hopes for a second successive championship were shot down by Penrith's "big three" in Saturday's elimination semi-final at the Snakepit.

Starring in the Panthers's 87-65 victory were Alicia Poto (22 points), Rohanee Cox (21) and Tahlia Tupaea (21). The talented trio also combined for 17 assists and 13 rebounds.

Penrith blew away the home side from the perimeter, hitting 12 of 27 three-point shots. Poto was six of 11 from long range, while the Kittyhawks managed just six of 20 as a team.

Illawarra trailed 24-15 after one quarter and 49-25 at half-time.

To their credit, the Kittyhawks fought to the end and outscored the Panthers in the second half.

Captain Lauren Sparks worked hard for her 15 points, while Shelley Bates finished with 13.

"Their three key players shot the lights out and they combine really well when they're playing together," Sparks said.

"They're three smart players that have been around for ages. They see things really well. Their vision's really good and they distribute passes.

"Penrith got a lot of open looks, particularly on the three-point line and they were on fire. We tried to switch up our defences a bit, but unfortunately when a team's shooting like that they're hard to shut down.

"We played a bit scared in the first half. At half-time we said we didn't want the score to blow out any more than what it already was. We came out a lot more aggressive at both ends of the floor."

Illawarra captured their maiden Waratah League crown last year and were well-positioned halfway through this season for another title run.

But they lost three players - Georgia Ohrdorf and Katherine and Liisa Ups took up basketball scholarships at US colleges in early July - and were always going to battle to fill the gaps.

"People stepped up really well in those roles when they left, but they were three of our biggest scorers and took a lot of shots for us," Sparks said.

"You have to stay positive because it's probably a good thing for our younger girls to have gone through that, to have had the opportunity to play big minutes in important games at the end of the season."

Sparks wouldn't be surprised if the Panthers marched all the way to the title, from fifth spot.

"They play Hornsby in the semis at Maitland and any of the four teams that are still playing can win it. It'll be interesting to see how it turns out."

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