Ipswich Force rises in rare state league double
"THAT'S why you coach in the state league. That's why you play in the Queensland Basketball League''.
That's why Ipswich Force men's coach Chris Riches is so positive about his team this season.
On a night the Force women won a thriller to retain a top three spot, the Ipswich men also celebrated one of their most enjoyable victories of the season.
The 125-113 triumph over Gladstone on the road was the team's fourth win after a team performance Riches was particularly proud of.
"It was big,'' Riches said.
"That's why you come here and you play in these types of places.
"In Gladstone, and you see it all around the central and northern Queensland, it is a most fantastic place to play in because of the atmosphere.
"The crowds are up there with you. Every bucket, every score . . . and I love playing in these places. They are just the reason why you coach, the reason why you play.
"And all the guys did so well.''
Riches was most delighted with how his closeknit team put Gladstone away after the home side made a spirited third quarter charge with 35 points to Ipswich's 26.
American import Kyle Harvey was Ipswich's standout with 46 points and 10 rebounds, well supported by Garrett Hall with his equal best season tally of 28.
"But it wasn't like he was getting all the ball,'' Riches said of Harvey.
"He just quietly racked up a lot of points, especially in the second half being aggressive and rebounding.
"And last night Garrett ran the floor incredibly well. He worked really, really hard around the edges to make sure that he was able to continue scoring right throughout the game.''
Enjoying his best state league season since joining Force four years ago, Harvey praised his teammates.
"Our guys at the end of the day showed some composure, a lot of maturity on the floor,'' Harvey said.
"That's what got us home tonight.''
With only one game on the latest road trip, Riches said his players deserved a night out to celebrate before hopping on the team bus to return.
Force women's coach Brad George shared Riches sentiments about the atmosphere after his team survived a determined late rally to beat Gladstone 98-94.
"It's a tough place to play,'' George said, thrilled with Ipswich's first win in Gladstone in several years.
"It was a tight game all the way.
"They shot really, really well. They shot like 60 percent for the whole game. If you usually shoot that, you usually don't lose so they had to really work for it.
"It's a hard place to win up there.''
In the captivating final quarter with a noisy crowd behind them, Gladstone snuck ahead 86-85 with just under three minutes left.
However, Sydney Uni Flames national league signing Amanda "AJ'' Johnson displayed her consistent all-round qualities.
A vital three-pointer and two successful free throws kept Ipswich in front 96-93 before AJ was fouled out with 15 seconds remaining.
Ever-dependable teenage guard Kate Head nailed her final two free throws to repel the last desperate surge by Gladstone and preserve Ipswich's lead.
"At that age, under that sort of pressure with that crowd, to hit those free throws at a really crucial time was good,'' the coach said.
Marburg product Meg Essex earlier had her best game for Force since returning from US College commitments.
Essex scored 21 points, including two three-pointers from two attempts and six two-pointers from seven shots.
"She was awesome. She kept us in it in that first half,'' George said.
Gladstone led 27-22 at quarter time before Force levelled the scores at 43-43 by halftime, setting up the thrilling finale.
Force's 10th victory from 12 matches ensured they would play finals this season.
On a lighter note, the Force women had to play in Gladstone's away strip due to taking the wrong uniforms on their latest road trip.
QBL men: Ipswich Force 125 (Kyle Harvey 46, Garrett Hall 28) def Gladstone Power 113 in Gladstone.
QBL women: Ipswich Force 98 (Amanda Johnson 37, Meg Essex 21, Georgia Williams 13) def Gladstone Power 94 in Gladstone.
Next matches: Saturday (5pm and 7pm) - Ipswich Force v Gold Coast at Llewellyn Stadium.