AND with that, the witch is dead.
Illawarra ended a decade-long run of outs with their first win in the west in 26 consecutive visits, edging out the the Wildcats 89-85 at Perth Arena on Sunday night.
The match started like most of the last 25 with the hosts getting off to a flyer to lead by 14 points midway through the opening term before new super-sub Rotnei Clarke engineered a stirring comeback that lasted to the final whistle.
For the second straight game the former MVP was injected from the interchange bench and produced 20 points, including four triples, and four assists to orchestrate the victory.
In the absence of injured star Marvelle Harris, Tim Coenraad made the most of his first start of the season with 18 points, 4-6 from long-range, while Nick Kay (12), AJ Ogilvy (12), Mitch Norton (10) and Rhys Martin (10) were all in the doubles for the visitors. They also out-hustled the traditionally top-heavy Cats on the boards 40-29 in what was one of the finest victories of coach Rob Beveridge’s tenure.
Perth big-man Matt Knight looked anything but a man under an injury cloud, dropping nine of his 17 points in the opening five minutes while Casey Prather led the hosts with 18 points and Jesse Wagstaff contributed 17.
The win didn’t come without some nervous moments down the stretch as a 10-3 run got Perth within three before the Hawks closed the match out from the line through Kay and Martin.
It was Illawarra’s first road win in Perth since November 2005 and sees the Hawks climb back into the top four ahead of their away clash with New Zealand on Friday.
Knight scored the first six points of the game while Jameel McKay had four including a transition alley-oop. Prather also had six for the quarter punctuated by a transition slam that forced Beveridge into a time-out after little more than three minutes.
Things looked ominous for the Hawks as the lead swelled to 14 before Clarke’s injection from the bench turned things around for the visitors. He contributed seven while Norton added four on a 10-2 run that cut things back to 24-21.
It was all the Hawks to start the second term with Kay kicking things off on the fast break and Ogilvy knocking down six points to take their first lead 30-29.
Knight hit back with four points before a long-range bomb from Cody Ellis set in motion a telling 12-3 run as the lead swelled to nine. Prather had four more to finish with 10 for the half but it was the Hawks who took all the momentum into the main break leading 52-46.
The visitors hit the first two buckets of the third term to take their first double-figure lead of the match at 56-46. The Cats responded with the next six to get within four.
Two triples to Coenraad, either side of a three-point play from McKay pushed the margin back out to seven before seven straight points to Wagstaff got the hosts back within four.
A monster three from Clarke and two more from the charity stripe re-took momentum for the visitors with Kay and Martin both finishing in transition to take a 10-point buffer into the final term.
Wagstaff added nine points in the final term to lead the late fight-back before clutch threes from Martin and Kay, and one-each from the line got the Hawks home.