THE old saying “third time’s a charm”, rang true for the Albury Cougars as they booked a spot in the North East CBL final with a thrilling 85-79 over-time win against arch-rival Wodonga on Saturday night.
In a game worthy of a grand final, both teams had their opportunities to book their spot in this week’s decider.
The Cougars jumped out of the blocks, as they have all season, to hold a 14-3 lead on the back of some slick ball movement and sharp shooting from Sawyer Dearborn.
However, as with their past encounters, Wodonga came storming back to seize the lead thanks to the always dangerous Jon Lindhe.
In a game of runs, Albury built double-figure leads on multiple occasions, only to have the Wolves hunt them down.
With the Cougars holding a 16-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter, the Wolves had their work cut out for them.
But they were up to the task.
Wodonga cut the lead to eight points with a little over two minutes remaining as Albury started to look a little shaky.
Two clutch threes from Lindhe and a crucial steal on an inbounds pass by Josh McKay led to Lindhe being sent to the line for two shots with the Wolves trailing by just the single point.
Having split the free throws, Dearborn got a last second heave away for the Cougars, but the game was headed to overtime with the scores locked at 73-73.
The over-time period was highlighted by Wodonga’s playmaker Trevor McLean and Lindhe both fouling out.
Albury held strong during the five-minute period with Jack Duck and Darcy Harding both coming up with some big plays to ensure they booked their ticket to the Conference final.
Dearborn was the game’s high scorer with 25 points, Harding had 20 and Duck 15.
For the Wolves, Lindhe led the way with 22, while McKay and young gun Trent McMullen both finished with 18.
“That was a big game from my blokes,” Cougars coach Stephen Gibbs said.
“They made it hard for themselves, but they showed some real guts and determination to fight it out and get the win.
“It will be a big game next weekend and a really good challenge for us.”
Albury faces two-time defending champion Shepparton Gators at the Wodonga Leisure Centre this Saturday.