By ROY WARD
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DANDENONG Rangers stormed into the WNBL grand final yesterday despite a most unconvincing start to the season.
The Rangers, who ended the regular season in third place, beat minor premiers Adelaide Lightning 91-78 at Adelaide Arena yesterday to set up a clash with reigning champions Bulleen Boomers at the State Netball and Hockey Centre in Royal Park, Parkville, this Sunday at 3pm.
The match will be the first all-Melbourne Womens National Basketball League grand final since 1987 and extends the Rangers’ winning streak to eight games.
Rangers coach Mark Wright has radically changed the playing list in the past two seasons with only Alison Downie, Steph Cumming, Clare Papavs and Hope Terdich remaining from the group who finished the 2009-2010 season.
Since then, Wright has added major players like Kath Macleod, Jenna O’Hea, Tegan Cunningham and import centre Krista Phillips, all of whom were enormous contributors to the win over the Lightning.
Wright said it had taken his side time to gel but it was worth the wait, despite the side’s inconsistent play that continued into early January before this winning streak took off. ‘‘I’m not sure what has sparked it; all I know is it’s hard to throw six players new into a group,’’ he said.
‘‘That chemistry comes around in it’s own time. Adelaide did similar things with Suzy Batkovic and Bishop joining their side and they bonded straight away, while we took longer. Maybe we just needed time or a bit of luck? Who knows, but we have got here.’’
Wright praised the efforts of O’Hea (28 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) and Phillips (14 points, 14 rebounds) as the pair spent the second half trying to curb the scoring of Lightning star Batkovic (34 points, 26 in the first three quarters).
Cunningham (18 points) also scored crucial baskets while Macleod (13 points, six assists) and Cumming (12 points) excelled.
In the end, the Rangers ran over the tiring Lightning with a stunning 33-18 final quarter as the Rangers made almost every shot for the term.
Wright credited his side’s fitness and self-belief for their resounding finish, something they have also achieved in other major wins, including their elimination semi-final triumph over Townsville on Sunday of last week.
O’Hea told ABC1 she was proud of her teammates for winning such a vital game. ‘‘That was just amazing,’’ she said. ‘‘A few weeks ago we didn’t think we were going to make the finals and now we’re through to a grand final.’’
ABC1 will show the grand final live starting at 3pm.
The Rangers will play Bulleen Boomers in the WNBL grand final at the State Netball and Hockey Centre in Brens Drive, Royal Park, Parkville this Sunday at 3pm, tickets are available at ticketmaster.com.au.