Dalton the Overtime Hero as Three Australian Basketball Teams Advance to the Gold Medal Matches

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Jake Stevens for Commonwealth Games Australia

 

The youngster was the match-winning hero with a clutch basket to send the Australian Team to the gold medal match.

Cometh the moment, cometh 21-year-old Queenslander Lachlin Dalton.

In a scene that played out like every childhood dream, in overtime, England required just one point to advance to the gold medal match.

That was until Dalton wheeled around and sunk an epic 2-pointer to steal victory and keep the Australian 3×3 wheelchair team’s Commonwealth Games gold medal hopes alive.

Clutch.

The final basket was the exclamation point on an emotional day for the Aussies on the 3×3 court, with tears of joy, relief and heartbreak playing out across five matches featuring all four able-bodied and wheelchair teams in the penultimate day of competition at Smithfield, Birmingham.

The men’s able-bodied team and the women’s wheelchair team also booked their places in their respective gold medal matches, while the women’s able-bodied team will advance to the bronze medal match after a heart wrenching semi-final loss to England.

But it was Dalton, and his co-stars in Luke Pople, Jake Kavanagh and Kurt Thomson who owned the day, sealing a 12-11 win in the format’s first appearance at the Commonwealth Games.

With a raucous crowd behind their backs, the home side skipped out to a 5-1 lead at the halfway mark of the 10-minute match, and at three points up with 2:12 remaining, they looked destined for victory.

A tight contest throughout, Pople starred, collecting five rebounds and four points. As Kavanagh scored to take a 10-9 lead with 51 seconds remaining, England hit back to level the scores with 0:11 on the clock.

In overtime, the first team to score two points in total wins.

 

As England sunk their first attempt, Dalton collected the ball from outside the arc and duly sent Australia into the gold medal match.

“You dream about it as a kid,” Dalton said after the celebrations.

“It was just one of those surreal moments, you count down like you’re in your bedroom with your socks… 3, 2, 1… So, to actually do it on a world stage in a semi-final – it can’t get much better than that.”

“Because two points wins the game, I knew if we didn’t take the early lead, they’d have a pretty good chance to win. So I just decided, with a bit of daylight left, I’d just go for it. I just hoped for the best really.”

Dalton spoke of their opponent’s grit, and the electric atmosphere in the pop-up arena that was built in the city centre.

“England is a super team… huge props to them, they played their hearts out.”

“I’ve never been part of an atmosphere like that before. It was so close quarters and the whole crowd was so into it. I’m just so happy that wheelchair basketball can get the spotlight it deserves.”

“But tomorrow’s a new day – gold medal day – that’s what we came here for.”

They’ll play Canada at 7:30pm local time on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, the women’s wheelchair squad of Hannah Dodd, Georgia Inglis, Ella Sabljak and Amber Merritt were equally ecstatic to record a tight 8-6 win over England.

In the another ‘Ashes clash’ of the day, Australia’s strong defensive game grinded their opponents down, allowing them to hold onto a slim margin and advance to the final match of the Games.

A decisive two-point-play by Sabljak in the final three minutes was crucial in securing the victory for the green and gold, while Amber Merritt once again proved the difference between the two sides.

“I’m trying to soak the moment up… I want to cry, I’m so happy,” Merritt said after the match.

“Women’s wheelchair basketball has had it tough in the last few years so to have such a successful year now and to showcase all the hard work on the international stage now is incredible – I’m so happy we are finding some success.”

Of the rowdy home crowd, Merritt and her teammates said although the atmosphere was loud, they were fortunate enough to silence it as best they could early.

“We would joke about it beforehand – coming into the stadium – all the volunteers would wish us ‘good luck’ and we laughed that we were ready to be the most hated team on the court.”

The experienced team gelled well as they look to finish their first Commonwealth Games campaign with a win.

“We had a lot of fun and that’s the most important part for us… that we are doing the right thing and playing with our best mates.”

“I’ve played with Georgia Inglis for the last 17 years… Ella Sabljak I’ve known for 15 years and someone I’ve played with since 2013. They’re my closest girls at the moment and so proud that we’re here on this journey together.”

“I think we just go in and do what we do,” Merritt said of the impending final against Canada.

“We just have to go in and follow what we’ve been doing because it’s obviously been working well so far. As long as we do the right things, we can walk away with our heads held high.”

It was a busy day for the men’s team, playing twice, winning twice, and carrying that momentum into tomorrow’s gold medal match against England.

In the quarter-final, Kenya got the jump before the Aussies fought back to hit the lead only in the final stages of the matchup, eventually winning 20-15.

The team worked overtime to cover teammate Greg Hire, who tweaked a groin muscle earlier in the tournament.

Hire still played out both games, with the team hoping he’ll make a full recovery overnight.

“My heart rate was going one hundred-miles-a-minute,” Tom Wright said of the Kenyan victory.

“We were pretty exhausted and facing a bit of adversity, so we were absolutely exhausted, but happy to come away with a win.”

Hours later, the outfit returned to the court, and silenced the pro-Scottish crowd with a stirring 20-15 victory.

Jesse Wagstaff, Dan Johnson, Tom Wright and Hire combined in the physical match-up which saw the Aussies storming home, scoring seven points in the final two minutes.

Wagstaff led the stat sheet, scoring 9/13 with eight rebounds.

“It’s huge,” Wagstaff said of the impending gold-medal match.

“You get to represent your country… you look at the crowd, it’s got great support and every time you get to wear the green and gold, it’s a huge privilege.”

Valiant in defeat, the women’s team fell to England in a rough-and-tumble-clash ending 15-21.

There was a lot of feeling out there as Alex Wilson, Lauren Mansfield, Lauren Scherf and Marena Whittle went head-to-head with not only three on the court, but the thousands in the crowd.

Locked at 11-points-a-piece with 2:32 to go, a couple of crucial shots from the home team made the margin too big to gap in the final stages.

They’ll pick themselves up to face New Zealand in tomorrow’s bronze medal match, hoping to make the Australian haul at the 2022 Commonwealth Games four medals strong.

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