9 February, 2024

Nest buzzing for Hornets

Tomorrow night, Horsham Hornets face off against Mt Gambier Lakers in the Grand Final of the Country Basketball League.

By Chris Graetz

Fearless captain Mitch Martin.
Fearless captain Mitch Martin.

The two teams reached the Grand Final following comprehensive wins last weekend. The Hornets defeated Portland by seven points whilst Mt Gambier defeated Warrnambool by 20.

These two sides have met twice this year with one win-a-piece on each other's courts. In round five on November 4, Hornets got the better of Mt Gambier in an 86-80 win. In round ten on December nine, Mt Gambier won 78-70.

The Hornets boast Austin McKenzie and Cody Bryan, two of the top five scorers in the league this year and the the Lakers have Simon Berkefeld, fifth in scoring and ex-NBL, Adelaide 36ers Tom Daly.

Both teams are similar sides in that they like to play fast and get back in defense.

Hornets coach Scott Benbow expects it will be a high-scoring game.

"Both teams have amazing three-point shooters and I expect it to be a fast-paced game," Benbow said.

"They will look to get us on the rebound and move the ball fast, therefore we need to play as we did on the weekend where we got back well."

The mouth-watering matchup will be between Toby de Wit and Austin McKenzie. Mitch Martin and Simon Berkefeld are going to be another entertaining battle, as will Max Bryan and Tom Daly.

The other two matchups between Matthew Brown and Braiden Ousey and Shaun Lock and Cody Bryan are also going to be important outcomes in the game.

The players are excited about the Grand Final. The Hornets' nest was buzzing on Tuesday at training.

They played a four 10 minute-quarter scratch match with the starters against the younger members and it was a high-intensity battle.

"Everyone shot the ball well," Benbow said.

"The youngsters pushed them for three quarters but the bigger bodies took over in the end. It was real close."

Benbow said the atmosphere was electrifying.

"It was an unreal atmosphere. They are up and about and there's a really good vibe," Benbow said.

"They are excited and raring to go and can't wait to get into it on Saturday."


The Hornets are no strangers to a home Grand Final, having played their 2018 and 2022 championship wins at home.

Tickets are selling fast and 400-500 spectators are expected to fill the stadium to watch the two best teams go at it and the home crowd support should give the Hornets a boost.

The crowd last Saturday night against Portland was electric. They were getting around the Hornets players and cheering every basket.

Not only were they cheering when the Hornets were scoring, they were cheering when Portland was missing shots, particularly free throws.

When asked how much of a difference it makes, Scott Benbow said it was massive as it can get into the opposition's head.

"80% of the crowd will be supporting us. Our supporters tend to be loud, especially a small supporter group we like to call the 'rat pack'," he said.

"The 'rat pack' are friends of some of the players and they get in on the action. It is great to see and it encourages the boys.

"Austin McKenzie and Mitch Martin thrive off it. They feel no pressure. We want the crowd to be as loud as possible. We have the best crowd in the league. The atmosphere will be huge."


Since the Country Basketball League's inception in 2012, the Hornets have won two times. The first was in 2018 against the Bendigo Braves in a 74-63 victory and the second was an 87-80 win against Portland.

Before that, in the VBL/BigV Championships, they were victorious in 1991, 2001, 2002 and 2008.

The Hornets have players with Grand Final experience.

In 2018, Mitch Martin, Jake Hobbs, Damien Skurrie, Austin McKenzie and Matt Lovel all played.

In 2022, Cody Bryan, Mitch Martin, Ryan Pfitzner, Max Bryan, Fred Frew, Jake Hobbs and Matthew Lovel were all present.

Despite having a younger team, they are experienced and know what to expect on Saturday.

For assistant coach Matt Lovel, his experience is vital. Against Portland last Saturday, he came on when they started to get momentum and helped the younger players wrestle it back.

"In terms of a veteran role, I help settle the team down and try and bring more control back," Lovel said.

"They did a really good job in fixing it up quickly and the boys did well to respond."
When asked what advice he is giving to the younger players, he is telling them to enjoy the moment.

"I told them not to overthink it and play your normal game," he said.

"There's a bit more at stake and the players are buzzing, but it's important to keep your cool and relax and enjoy the moment.

"It's great being a part of it."

Whilst Lovel isn't thinking of retirement as his body and mind is still good, he said the championships have been a highlight of his career and he hopes to add a third tomorrow.

"The personal things don't matter. It's the championships that you are after. We are all ready to go out there and claim it back."

Another experienced player, Damien Skurrie, will be playing his last game after notching up 150 games in December.

He said he is enjoying the moment.

"I am excited about it," he said.

"We had a good training session on Tuesday and everyone was up and about and there's a lot of positivity about what we have achieved.

"We know the hard work is still to come. The pressure is on. Mt Gambier is a good team and we hope to deliver a premiership for our town."

Skurrie said he isn't trying to think about this match being his last game.

"You definitely have mixed emotions," Skurrie said.

"It can be exciting and emotional but you get to that point where your body tells you to hang it up.

"There is now an opportunity for someone else to step in and throw on the number eight guernsey and wear it and hopefully have amazing success like I have."


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