Force brace for Rocky road trip
THE last time the Ipswich men played Rockhampton, they were 30 points down before gaining the lead and finally losing.
That was a testing road trip by a newly-formed Ipswich side against a home side that went on to finish top of this year's Queensland Basketball League ladder.
However, much has changed since that early clash with both sides to meet again in Saturday night's QBL semi-final in Rockhampton.
Ipswich Force captain Zarryon Fereti was a part of this year's early season loss to Rockhampton and when Ipswich lost their 2012 semi-final to Mackay.
After watching his closeknit side overpower Bundaberg 88-71 in Saturday night's quarter-final, Fereti has every reason to feel more confident this finals campaign.
"We are definitely a different team," he said, in his third year with the improving Force combination.
"It took us a little while to gel, having a completely brand new team.
"In 2012, we had a few injuries going into the semis.
"We're definitely a lot better prepared this year.
"I think we're a lot deeper. I think our team is a lot better.
"We always felt since the start of the season, it would take some time but we feel that we can beat anybody."
Fereti was fouled out in the middle of the final quarter of Saturday night's game at Ipswich stadium.
It was the first time in six years he suffered that fate, with the game still in the balance.
"It was a bit of a flat for me," he said.
However, the captain was impressed how his team did what it has so well in recent weeks - back each other up when under pressure.
James Legan (26 points) and Kyle Harvey (20) led the scoring.
"Everybody did so well," Fereti said.
"The guys that come off the bench were big for us. Iti (Martin Iti) was massive (18 rebounds).
"James Legan, Dan Sims, all those guys just really played hard defensively and executed offensively. It was great."
Fereti, 29, said the coaching team, led by Andrew Summerville and Mick Conlon, deserved praise for building a stronger unit.
"Mickie (Conlon) and Summers (Summerville) have prepared us really well," Fereti said.
"We've had really tough practices and we've gone hard and we've tried to execute in practice to make the games a lot easier on us.
"I really feel even Kyle Harvey, he's been phenomenal in the second half of the season.
"It's really helped us drive the team and be able to know where everyone is at and what we are doing.
"We are all on the same page.
"We've all got the one goal and that obviously is to win a championship.
"Winning that first game last night was a good step forward."
Fereti said the players were bonding well on and off the court.
"It's been a great season so far," the first-year captain said.
Although Force won comfortably in the end on Saturday night, they trailed 41-39 at halftime before upping the tempo in the third quarter.
Force kept the Bulls to just 18 points in the last term before confirming their semi-final status.
State of Play
QBL quarter-finals: Men - Ipswich Force 88 (James Legan 26, Kyle Harvey 20) d Bundaberg Bulls 71 (Breland Hogan 23, Willie Shackleford 21).
Women: Ipswich Force 70 (Brandi Brown 23, Lauren O'Sullivan 16, Chelsie Schweers 16) d Northside Wizards 64 (Aja Parham 31, Gianna Woods 21).
Both Ipswich teams to play Rockhampton in Saturday night's semi-finals in Rockhampton.