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The City Rise Bombers prevailed in a tense club basketball semifinal on Saturday.
They beat the St Kilda Saints 91-87 to advance to next week’s final against the Mid City Magic.
It will be the first year since 2011 that St Kilda has not featured in the final.
The Bombers led most of the way; however, a late push from the Saints made for a thrilling contest down the stretch.
City Rise had led by double digits early, but that was cut to 64-63 at the final break as the Saints began getting stops and attacking in transition.
It is there where guard James Ross is most dangerous, and he made his presence felt.
He scored 11 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, as the Saints rallied to pull in front midway through the period.
However, they were never able to extend their lead past three.
The Saints led 81-80 before baskets to Matt Bardsley (21 points) and Olly Smith (27 points) took the Bombers back ahead 84-81 in the final minute.
Steve Robinson (10 points) made the gap four when he hit a free throw with 37 seconds to go.
The Saints pushed the ball, however, when contact between Ross and Bardsley was ruled a no-call — the Saints bench was given a technical foul after expressing their displeasure.
Smith missed the free throw, but the technical foul meant the Bombers kept possession and Bardsley was fouled seconds later.
He went to the line to make it 87-81, and the Saints called a time-out.
It proved a good one, as knockdown shooter Matt Gillan (24 points) was able to get open and nail a three-pointer with 21 seconds left on the clock.
The Saints fouled Smith off the ensuing possession and he made his two free throws to make it 89-84.
However, Gillan hit another three-pointer to give the Saints a glimmer of hope with 10 seconds remaining.
The Bombers inbounded to Smith, who was trapped by Ross and Liam Aston, but a blocking foul was called on Ross.
This again prompted an uproar from the Saints bench, but the call had been made, and Smith coolly went to the line to score the final points of the game.
Earlier the Bombers had been tough to contain in transition as they jumped out to an early lead.
Bardsley in particular showed his aggression and footwork to score at the hoop, while Anton Hughes (17 points) was equally dangerous.
They led 26-17 at the first break and after the Bombers extended that early, the Saints fought back to have it at 45-41 at halftime.
That gap continued to close in third, although the Bombers were able to hold a narrow lead until the Saints’ last push in the final quarter.