Lauren Mansfield scored 19 points against Bendigo. Photo: Elesa Kurtz Jazmon Gwathmey. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
Canberra Capitals star Marianna Tolo says the players will use Carly Wilson’s retirement as the extra motivation for their push to end a five-season finals drought.
The Capitals edged closer to an elusive play-off berth with a gritty win against the Bendigo Spirit on Saturday night, blowing the visitors away in the final quarter to secure a 77-63 triumph.
Tolo was the standout again with 28 points and nine rebounds and was backed up by workhorse point guard Lauren Mansfield, with the duo combining for more than half of Canberra’s final score.
But the underlying inspiration came from Wilson, who announced last week she was retiring at the end of the season after almost 20 years in the WNBL.
The Capitals’ post-match huddle made special mention of making a charge for Wilson to give her a chance to finish her career with a fairytale fourth championship.
The Capitals have won 10 games this year and will walk a finals tightrope in the last six games of the year as they target a finals return for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign.
“We had to keep fighting to wear them down and we really kicked it up a gear in the last couple of minutes,” Tolo said.
“The announcement of Willo’s retirement is more motivation for us and we’re going to go into every game like it’s our last game.
“We’ve really got to fight because we know we’re coming from behind on the ladder, we know we’ve got a bit of catching up to do.
“We’re just praying for some results, but we’re doing everything we can to take care of our own business.
“Willo’s retirement adds a bit of fiestiness and a bit of fight for us. You want a player to have that dream finish to their career and for Willo, someone who’s been here so long, we’re doing everything we can to fight for her.”
Canberra has no beaten every team in the competition and toppling the Spirit will give the Capitals the confidence they need if they break into the play-offs.
Their next test is an Day clash against the second-placed Sydney Flames at Tuggeranong on Thursday, with both teams desperate for victory so close to the end of hte regular season.
The Capitals trailed by as many as 15 points in the opening half and had to wait until late in the third quarter to mount their challenge for the lead.
Bendigo was playing its second game in less than 24 hours after making the draining journey from Townsville to Canberra on the morning of the game to back up.
But every time the Capitals threatened to blast the visitors away with some Tolo magic or a Lauren Mansfield long bomb, the Spirit kept clawing their way back into the contest.
The score was locked at 56-all at three-quarter time and the lead continually traded hands until the Capitals opened up their biggest lead of the game with just two minutes left.
The Spirit didn’t have enough energy to get back into the game and Tolo killed off their last-minute hopes to snatch a 14-point triumph.
“Bendigo is a really tough team. It qas quite physical but I was glad we were able to execute down the stretch,” Mansfield said.
“That’s huge for us, it’s our third win in a row and we hadn’t beaten Bendigo yet so that’s really nice because we can go into the finals with a lot of confidence.
“We’re really hoping to get into those finals … Willo got a bit emotional at the end. She’s our leader and we want to send her out the right way.”
AT A GLANCE
CANBERRA CAPITALS 77 (Marianna Tolo 28, Lauren Mansfield 19, Mikaela Ruef 7) bt BENDIGO SPIRIT 63 (Kelsey Griffin 20, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe 13, Nadeen Payne 10) at Tuggeranong Basketball Stadium on Saturday night. Crowd: 825.