Bishop faces up to season’s frustrations

Canberra Capitals forward Abby Bishop is certainly not one for shirking responsibility.
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And just a day after sharing her inspiring tale of caring for her baby niece, the forward was forthright when asked about the Capitals’ up-and-down season after Saturday’s 88-74 win over Melbourne.

The road victory was Canberra’s third on the trot, but barring a miracle it is resigned to missing the play-offs for the third straight season.

Bishop admitted that beating three of the top four teams on the way only added to the frustration, after posting a WNBL career-high 29 points to go with nine rebounds and three three-pointers against the Boomers.

”We seem to beat the top four teams, it’s just the lower teams we’ve struggled with this season,” she told the ABC.

”We wanted to come out and finish the season strongly because we know we’ve been disappointed with ourselves and could have and should have done better than we have.”

Minus forward Rachel Jarry and centre Chelsea Poppens through injury, Bishop was a focal point inside alongside post partner Alex Bunton (14 rebounds, seven points).

Canberra won the assists count 24-14, and Bishop’s dominance opened up the Capitals’ perimeter game.

The visitors nailed 11 of 24 from beyond the arc in its ninth win of the season.

Capitals skipper Jess Bibby scored 19 points, while Rebecca Allen (21 points) battled hard for Melbourne.

”Bishop was by far the MVP – she plays both ends of the floor and everything in between,” Canberra coach Carrie Graf said.

”Our focus was to use our bigs. They were undersized, particularly with [Chelsea] Poppens out, and we had an inside-outside game.”

The Capitals will fancy their chances of pressing second-placed Dandenong on Sunday, after defeating the Rangers away from home earlier this year and almost upsetting them again in Canberra.

Graf said their late-season matches against top-four opposition would help decide who remained on the roster next year.

”We didn’t get wins when we had injured players and had a slow start with matches on the road, but that’s how seasons go sometimes.

”We can’t go ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda’, it hasn’t happened. Closing it out now augurs well for the players we want to keep on the roster for next year.”

CANBERRA CAPITALS 88 (ABishop 29, J Bibby 19, N Hunt 11) bt MELBOURNE BOOMERS 74 (RAllen 21, R Cole 13, A Todhunter 12, T Madgen 12) at State Basketball Centre, Victoria.

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Brumbies beaten but still happy

ACT Brumbies veteran Clyde Rathbone has backed injury-plagued Wallaby Pat McCabe to recapture his best form this year even though he suffered another blow in his long comeback journey.
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Rathbone dismissed the Brumbies’ pre-season loss to the Otago Highlanders as a hiccup and is confident the physicality of the trial on Friday night will benefit their Super Rugby campaign.

McCabe was left dazed by a head knock just 15 minutes into his first game in seven months as the Brumbies lost to the Highlanders by four points. The 20-Test Wallaby has broken his neck twice since November 2012.

He will have to pass rigorous tests before he can make another comeback. It is unclear whether he will play against an ACT XV on Saturday night.

Star Brumbies and Wallabies flanker David Pocock made his comeback from a knee reconstruction in the pre-season trial.

”A lot of the times guys get head knocks, come off and you can tell they’re incoherent and disoriented,” Rathbone said.

”’Patty’ was fine; it was just a precaution thing. He will recover and be back to his top form this season once he gets some game time.

”’Poey’ [Pocock] was playing as well as he did before the injury. He hasn’t lost anything. When you are coming back from serious injuries, you just want to survive and get through.”

The Brumbies will fine-tune the team when they play against an ACT XV at Viking Park on Saturday night.

They will play their contingent of Wallabies – including Ben Mowen, Matt Toomua and Stephen Moore – to give them match fitness. The Wallabies in the team did not play in the opening trial against the Hurricanes as they were being rested.

Coach Stephen Larkham is trying to juggle the salary cap to retain his stars. One factor in his calculations is that prop Ruaidhri Murphy could be returning to Ireland.

Irish-born Murphy started with the Brumbies in 2012.

It is understood the 26-year-old Murphy, who underwent a knee reconstruction last year, is close to signing a deal with Ulster, which would result in his leaving Canberra at the end of its Super Rugby campaign.

The Brumbies returned to Canberra on Saturday after a taxing opening trial.

McCabe was not the only casualty. Rathbone suffered a sore knee and several players needed stitches.

”You can’t read too much into the result … when we won the title in 2004 we played a trial and lost by 50 points,” Rathbone said.

Brumbies director of rugby Laurie Fisher said: ”We’re certainly not disappointed with where we are. We got ruffled by a hard-shouldered Highlanders team, but we’ll learn from that.”

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Croker backs Stuart’s Nines call

Jarrod Croker at the Raiders’ fan day on Saturday. He will captain the club at the Auckland Nines. Photo: Elesa KurtzCanberra centre Jarrod Croker has defended the club’s decision to field a weakened side devoid of star power for the Auckland Nines as the Raiders make it clear the NRL season is their priority.
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And Raiders coach Ricky Stuart says one trial match will be enough for skipper Terry Campese and his World Cup stars – Anthony Milford and Josh Papalii – to hit the NRL season running.

Not even a share of $2.2 million in prizemoney has swayed the Raiders to field a strong team for the Auckland Nines, with Canberra’s focus completely on its round-one clash with North Queensland on March 8.

Croker, Reece Robinson, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and Joel Edwards are the only regular first-graders in the 16-man Raiders squad for the Auckland Nines, which also features six back-rowers.

Stuart will also bypass the two-day event, which begins on February 15. Instead, assistant Matt Parish will take the reins.

But Croker, who will captain the side for the first time, insisted the club’s young talent had earned their chance.

”They’ve trained just as hard as us over the pre-season and they deserve to have a crack,” Croker said. ”They’ll get a lot out of it being in camp and it will make them more hungry as well.”

However, he admitted it was a letdown for spectators that Anthony Milford, who is being monitored for a foot injury, will not line up in Auckland.

”Ricky’s just concentrating on the trials and Tony’s just come back from the World Cup, he’s been working pretty hard and they want to ease him back into it,” Croker said.

”It’s a bit disappointing for people wanting to watch, but … it’ll be good to get Tony back to full fitness and ready for round one.”

Canberra has also named a 29-man squad for its opening trial against Melbourne at AAMI Park on Saturday.

Campese and World Cup stars Milford, Papalii and Brett White will not be used until the second trial, against Newcastle in Tamworth on February 22.

”Trials for me are all about conditioning and getting a bit of timing and cohesion for the [regular season] games,” Stuart said.

”There’ll be a big squad again for the second game [against Newcastle].”

As revealed by Fairfax Media, Jack Wighton and Mitch Cornish will play five-eighth and halfback respectively against the Storm, in a revival of their successful under-20 partnership. Robinson and Jack Ahearn will share the fullback role.Canberra Raiders trial squadsAuckland Nines, February 15-16: Jarrod Croker (c), pictured, Reece Robinson, Mitch Cornish, Bill Tupou, Matt McIlwrick, Joel Edwards, Glen Buttriss, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Jarrad Kennedy, Mark Nicholls, Jake Foster, Lagi Setu, Mitch Cronin, Luke Bateman, Jack Ahearn, Andrew Heffernan.Trials versus Melbourne at AAMI Park, February 8: Jack Ahearn, Matt Allwood, Luke Bateman, Shannon Boyd, Mitch Cornish, Mitch Cronin, Joel Edwards, Jake Foster, Jeremy Hawkins, Andrew Heffernan, Jarrad Kennedy, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Brenko Lee, Jeff Lynch, Patrick Mago, Sam Mataora, Josh McCrone, Matt McIlwrick, Mark Nicholls, Mosese Pangai, Tevita Pangai Junior, Jordan Rapana, Reece Robinson, Sami Sauiluma, Lagi Setu, David Shillington, Dane Tilse, Bill Tupou, Jack Wighton.

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Controversial call saves Cavalry

Canberra Cavalry closer Sean Toler produced a crucial double-play ball in the bottom of the ninth to help his side to a 4-3 win over the Sydney Blue Sox in game two of the ABL preliminary final series on Saturday night. Photo: SMP ImagesIf you’re orange it was clearly out, if you’re blue it was safe, but in the end it doesn’t matter as Canberra Cavalry closer  Sean Toler ‘‘locked in’’ to produce  a double play to send the Australian Baseball League preliminary final into the deciding game on Sunday.
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The Cavalry led the Sydney Blue Sox 4-2 going into the ninth inning, needing to win to keep its hopes of defending its ABL championship alive.

Toler got the job done for a 4-3 Canberra victory in controversial circumstances at Blacktown on Saturday.

He came to the mound knowing Sydney had the wood on him from their last two outings and as the Blue Sox batters got on base it looked like it was going to happen again.

But with runners at first and third, Toler drew the ground ball to second-baseman Jon Berti to turn the double play on Sox outfielder Keon Broxton to end the game.

In a tight call, Broxton appeared to have made it and went berserk when he was called out as the tying run scampered towards home plate.

But he was called out and the Cavs celebrated.

It sets up a cracking rubber match on Sunday after the Blue Sox triumphed 18-11 over the Cavalry in Friday night’s series opener on a wild night at Narrabundah Ballpark.

Toler backed the umpire’s call.

‘‘That was crazy, that’s just how the game ended up getting to, we just had to grind it out those last few innings,’’ he said.

‘‘[I wasn’t] nervous, it’s just I know I’ve got to lock it because these guys have really good approaches at the plate and I know I’ve got to bring my best stuff.

‘‘That’s part of pitching the ninth inning, you’ve just got to be able to lock in.’’

Sydney only had itself to blame. Its defence was awful and it twice left the bases loaded.

It made four errors and the Cavs made it pay.

Canberra third-baseman Jeremy Barnes hit a solo home run in the top of third, before Jason Sloan went yard with a two-run shot over left field in the fourth.

It put the Cavs in control with starting pitcher Ethan Cole causing all sorts of trouble with his curve ball.

When the Cavalry made mistakes it was able to clean up its mess before any damage was done, like a Casey Frawley misfield that led to loaded bases when the inning should have been over.

Canberra reliever Clint Everts also got his curve ball going to produce a big strikeout in the bottom of the seventh with Sydney pressing.

Then it all came down to Toler.

He was confident going into the third-and-final game.

‘‘Winning the game before the decider is always a good thing, you use that momentum, we kind of ride off that feeling of positivity,’’ Toler said.

‘‘Especially being the third-placed team coming in we kind of had our backs against the wall from the start.’’

Steven Chambers will start the decider for Canberra at Blacktown on Sunday at 4pm.

Canberra   1  0  1  2  0  0  0  0  0   – 4r    4h   1e

Sydney     0  0  0  0   0  1  1  0  1   – 3r   12h  4e

Cavs’ best: 1B-J Sloan (1-4, 1HR, 2RBI), P-Cole (6.0IP, 7H, 1ER, 6K), 3B-Barnes (1-4, 1HR, 1R), SS-Frawley (1-3, 1RBI).

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