By David Nagel

High-flying Berwick is just one safe landing away from the perfect season after the Wickers booked their grand final ticket with a 17-point victory over Cranbourne in Saturday’s second semi-final at Pakenham.
The Wickers stole a march on the Eagles in the second quarter, kicking 4.3 to 0.2, opening up a 22-point lead in a game that was otherwise dominated by two very-well-drilled defensive units.
An early set shot from Harry Money was followed by a long bomb from Ash Smith, before goals to skipper Madi Andrews, and another to Money on the half-time siren, gave the Wickers the advantage they were looking for.
That wind-assisted second term proved the difference in the end, the Wickers maintaining their advantage at three-quarter time before weathering a brave Eagles’ fightback in the final term.
Stewart Kemperman’s normally free-flowing Berwick outfit was outplayed early in the last quarter – the Eagles closing to 10 points at the 14-minute mark – before tightening the screws at the stoppages.
The Wickers basically relinquished their wind advantage to nullify a surging opposition, inspired by goals from Mat Fletcher and Kirk Dickson.
“That’s probably what made the last quarter what it was, a real scrap, with some senior players standing up and showing leadership in those key moments,” a relieved Kemperman said after the match.
“They’re a really good side and we knew they would raise their level for finals. They’ve been here many times before and we always knew they would come out and give it everything, which they did. “You never sit comfortably in the coach’s box against Cranbourne, they’re seasoned warriors and they know what finals is all about.”
Kemperman was full of praise for his leaders, particularly Andrews who was best on ground – adding to an already glowing reputation.
“He’s a great player Madi, one of the greatest this club has ever seen, he was terrific and along with Ash Smith, Micky Harold, Riley Heddles, Luke Sheppard, they were all able to show composure when it was needed most,” Kemperman said.
“And I thought Jimmy Magner was terrific as well, around those stoppages, particularly late, he was enormous. We they just had to contain it and go from stoppage to stoppage and not allow Cranbourne to gain momentum.”
Defender Ryan Hillard was ferocious with his tackling for the Wickers, setting the scene for creative types like Michael Riseley, Michael Johnson and Will Arthurson to strut their stuff off half back. Andrew Morozoff and Jarrod Kemperman conceded first tap in the ruck, but were more than competitive around the clinches and dangers when changing forward.
Cranbourne won’t be too disheartened with this performance, closing the gap on the Wickers who took the points by 47 and 48 during the home-and-away season.
And they missed crucial chances in front of goal, with Jayden Sullivan, Ryan Davey and Dickson ruing missed opportunities in the second half.
Micky Boland was sensational in the ruck, while Dillan Bass and Brandon Osborne did what they do best down back. Zak Roscoe was lively, while Shaun Marusic battled bravely against a super-strong Berwick midfield.
But this was the Wickers’ day, providing them with the opportunity to turn around last year’s grand final loss to the Eagles.
“Absolutely, you never forget the ones you lose and for those guys that experienced that feeling last year it will definitely be a motivating factor in two weeks’ time,” Kemperman said.
“I’m really proud of the group because I know that’s what they are capable of and it’s great that they’ve been able to fulfil what I saw in them at the start of the year. They’ve given themselves an opportunity to take the ultimate glory and that feels pretty good right now.”
Cranbourne will now need to do it the hard way, taking on the winner of today’s first semi-final between Narre Warren and Beaconsfield in next Saturday’s preliminary final at Pakenham.
And Tooradin-Dalmore has booked the first place in this year’s A Grade netball grand final with a fast-starting 43-28 victory over Narre Warren.
The Seagulls were underdogs heading in, but produced a super-aggressive 13-3 first quarter to put the Magpies on the backfoot.
Jess Maher (GK) and Bec Kinna (GD) were impenetrable forces in defence, while Sara Duncan (C), Emma Iacovou (WA) and Ebony Dolan (WD) started the game in great style. The Magpies will need to lick their wounds and be ready to rebound against either Beaconsfield or Cranbourne in next Saturday’s preliminary final.
Tayla Shannon (GS) tried to inspire a Magpie comeback in the second quarter, while Erin Clark (WD) and Tracey Dell (GK) battled on gamely for the four quarters.
BERWICK                    2.0     6.3     8.5     9.7(61)
CRANBOURNE           2.3     2.5     4.7     6.8(44)
Berwick Goals: A. Smith 2, H. Money 2, J. Kemperman, J. Harrison, B. Rutherford, L. Jellyman-Turner, M. Andrews. Best: M. Andrews, J. Magner, R. Hillard, M. Riseley, A. Morozoff, J. Kemperman.
Cranbourne Goals: M. Holt 2, B. Wapshott, K. Dickson, Z. Roscoe, M. Fletcher. Best: M. Boland, D. Bass, S. Marusic, Z. Roscoe, B. Osborne, D. Cavalot.
NARRE WARREN               3      16       21     (28)
TOORADIN-DALMORE      13     23      35     (43)

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