Thursday night, Elitzur Ramla won its second consecutive Israeli Women’s Premier Basketball League Championship, with a 62-54 victory over Maccabi Bnot Ashdod in the deciding game 5.
Shakira Austin (19 points, 13 rebounds,5 steals, 4 assists and 3 blocks), Alysha Clark (10 points, 12 rebounds, 1 steal, 4 assists and 1 block) Alyssa Baron (14 points, 8 rebounds and 1 assist) and Elina Babkina (14 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 4 assists) led the way for the champs, while Natisha Hiedeman (20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 6 assists and 1 block), Shatori Walker (17 points and 5 steals) and Liz Cambage (8 points and 22 rebounds) were the best for the runners-up.
It was always going to be a tough contest, after Ramla stole home court and took a 2-0 series lead, only for Ashdod to win the next two games (including an away victory earlier this week) to force a deciding game in Ashdod last night.
The game itself was an arm-wrestle, with the two teams finding themselves level at 53 a piece with a little over 2 minutes to go. However, just as they did in game 2 of the series, Ramla were more focused at the end of the game and finished on a 9-1 run to win the team’s 12th championship.
On top of winning the championship, Shira Haelion, Ramla’s coach, won the coach of the year award and Austin won the league’s MVP award.
“Sport is an amazing thing,” Haelion said after the game. “For a week, I had a weight on my shoulders after the losses. What a great series it was! It really proves that nothing is over until it’s over. We’re champions two years in a row! What a season we had!
“I always said to the players that I believe in them. They’re big, they stayed positive and together. They really had a focused game today and we defended brilliantly. After such a difficult week that we had. I’m so happy for the club, for Nissim [Ron, Ramla Professional Manager], for Musa [Saba, Ramla Club President], for Dimitri [Shahin, Ramla’s lawyer] and for all the city and the fans that support us and love us and especially for the players. Speak with them, I’m less important and I’m so happy!”
Austin, whose Washington Mystics kick off their preparation for the WNBA season with a preseason game against the Minnesota Lynx next Friday and the regular season against the New York Liberty on May 19, was excited about what she’s achieved in Israel: “Oh, it feel so great, we worked so hard for this, I’m so happy!
“Since I got here, Shira pushed me, my teammates have pushed me. I’ve grown so much, they tell me every day, they’re so proud of me and I’m so happy that I could come here with them. What amazing people on and off the court, it feels so good.”
Two-time WNBA champion Clark is another player who will need to quickly focus on returning to the US, with her Las Vegas Aces playing a preseason game next weekend against the New York Liberty before kicking off the regular season against her former team, the Seattle Storm, on May 20. However, like her teammates, she will be taking time to enjoy the win.
“Just excitement, joy, just happy,” Clark said. “I’m happy we came here on the road facing adversity and we were able to walk away with the championship. I’m so fricking proud of this team!
“I would sum it [the season] up as just perseverance. All the ups and downs and changes the club has had, to be standing here as champions is just a testament to the ownership, the coaches, the players, just commitment to this goal. I’m just happy that I could be a part of it.”
While Austin and Clark fly out west, a number of Ramla’s Israeli players, including Baron, will be preparing for the national team’s EuroBasket campaign, with the team’s maiden training session to take place this Tuesday morning.
“I’m so happy,” Baron said in her interview on TV after the game in her non-native Hebrew. “Last season we also won and today, what a huge win. I have no words – neither in Hebrew nor in English – it’s so exciting!”