Let’s stick together: Captain’s call for future glory
HAVING built Ipswich's best basketball foundation in years, the Force men can take a break, reflect and aim even higher next year.
Force captain Jason Ralph was confident Ipswich can keep this year's Queensland State League (QSL) side together for the expanded 2021 NBL1 North competition.
Although disappointed with Friday night's 97-82 semi-final loss to Brisbane Capitals, Ipswich born and bred Ralph was proud of what his side achieved making such an important game.
"We are building a good team. That's what we said in the huddle afterwards when we were on the court,'' the long-serving state league player said.
"We need to stay together because this is the best team we've had in a few years now.
"I've played a QBL (Queensland Basketball League) semi-final but not at home.
"I can't remember the last time Ipswich men have had a semi-final here.''
Ralph was hopeful Ipswich's star recruit, Bullets and Australian player Nathan Sobey, could remain with the team for next year's NBL1 North series.
"He's got to weigh up his options as well,'' the Ipswich captain said.
"He's a great guy to have around the group. He's an absolute superstar in this league but he's also a great mentor to the other guys well.''
Sobey topscored with 32 points in the semi-final.
Ralph conceded the third-placed Capitals came ready to beat the second-placed Force side.
"No excuses really,'' Ralph said. "We need to make sure we look back on the season as well and make sure we are moving forward.
"We played a very good side tonight and they got away from us.''
After Force led 24-18 at quarter-time, the Capitals built a 46-44 halftime advantage before consolidating a 64-59 edge at three-quarter time.
The Capitals picked up the tempo in the final quarter at Ipswich's JBS Stadium to shut down any Ipswich comeback hopes.
"We just got outplayed by a better team tonight,'' Ralph said. "Disappointing on our home court.''
However, a positive was how Sobey linked with Ipswich-bred players like Mitchell Poulain.
"Mitch had a great game tonight but he's also had another good year,'' Ralph said.
"This is his best year so far and he just keeps improving.
"If we keep our group together, add a few pieces here and there, I'm looking forward to next season.''
Head coach Chris Riches agreed.
"Definitely. The boys played really, really well over the course of the season,'' Riches said.
"It's been a situation where we have put together a really, really good foundation.
"And now go on with some added pieces. When it comes to NBL1 North, when we can get guys in, we'll be able to do really well.''
Riches was confident the Ipswich players developed this season would provide the backbone of teams for the future.
"The tradition of using guys that are home grown, locally based is really our thing,'' he said.
"That's what we do.''
He said the Force men just "didn't quite click into our fifth gear'' as "semi-final basketball is something they are just not used to''.
"You have to lose one to win one,'' the coach said.
"It wasn't the best way to finish the season.
"But when we reflect back on where we started to where we finished and then individuals that have improved along the way, there's been some really, really great development.''
Ralph will have a short break before refocusing on next year's competition.
"I'll probably take two weeks off,'' he said.
"I didn't have the best pre-season because I was still coming back from a back injury.
"I'll have a good off-season and then get back on the court and ready for this NBL1 season.''
The Ipswich captain said a highlight for Force this season was being the only team to beat competition leaders RedCity Roar.
"They won (the other sem-final) tonight so it does prove we can beat anyone in the comp and how good our team is,'' Ralph said.
"Tonight just wasn't our night.''
The Ipswich Force women also lost their QSL Division 1 semi-final, being outclassed 104-42 by unbeaten competition leaders Logan.
Coach Terry Lindeberg did a terrific job guiding the young team this season with experienced co-captain Amy Lewis a standout during the qualifying matches.
STATE OF PLAY
QSL Men Division 1 semi-final: Brisbane Capitals 97 def Ipswich Force 82 (Nathan Sobey 32, Mitchell Poulain 22) at JBS Stadium.