Two great games tipped-off the new Southland Sharks Summer League last night.
In the early game Team Orange featuring local 2017 Sharks Jordan Murphy and Tom Cowie, team physio Hayden Sproat, former Shark Rhys Smolenski and a number of promising local A-graders took on Team Blue a mix of experienced locals including Shark Andrew Wheeler and former Shark Paratene McLeod and up-and-coming young local players including NZ U17 representative Mac Stodart.
Team Orange lead for the first 34 minutes before a Wheeler-inspired comeback brought Team Blue level at 74-74 with 6 minutes to play.
Orange did a good job getting to the line, spending the last five minutes in the bonus and a 9-0 run saw them take the win 91-80.
The late game was another close affair with Team Black, headlined by Connor Coll and made up of players vying for spots on the 2018 Southland U17 team as well as some of Southland’s top former Under-19 players taking on Team White, made up of players that are vying for spots on the 2018 Southland U19 team.
Team White exploded in the early stages getting out to a big lead before Coll caught fire to lead Team Black to a remarkable 20-17 quarter-time lead.
Both sides struggles offensively at times in the middle quarters - White being held to a meagre 7 second quarter points (35-24 to Black at the half) before holding Team Black to seven of their own in the third to close to within four at the final break.
A gripping final quarter saw the lead change hands a number of times before a late Team White free-throw with 1.2 seconds on the clock sent the game to overtime at 64-64.
In the end Team Black's key men were on the pine having fouled out which proved crucial as Team White took the win 74-72.
Southland Sharks assistant coach Mark Bell who has charge of Team Orange was delighted with the opening night.
"I thought the standard of play across the board was good. It was the first game in and we only had half our players at training on the weekend because of a tournament so a lot of these guys were coming in cold but the intensity was there and it was great to see the people who have come out to watch. Seeing the standard of the young players who have had five or six years of watching a Sharks team, you can see the improvement."
"It was good to see past Sharks players coming in and playing and helping the young ones through. If we want to have a team where the majority of players are from Southland over the next 10 years, this is the type of thing we need to be doing and building it. You've just to look at the number of kids who have come out and are watching tonight. It's really exciting," Bell said.
Next week's second round will feature on Court 1 at ILT Stadium Southland with games tipping off at 6:00pm and 7:30pm.