The atmosphere at the Shepparton Sports Stadium on Saturday night was truly electrifying.
After almost limping into the Big V division one playoffs by losing five of their past six matches, the Gators put the call out to their supporter base to pack the bleachers for an elimination final blockbuster against Warrandyte — and boy did they deliver.
There were comfortably more than 350 screaming fans — and one oversized green alligator — in attendance on Saturday, with overflow spectators forced to stand on the second court or in the foyer in order to catch a glimpse of the rampant Gators.
This column must put its hand up and say that, although Musings HQ has been to plenty of junior Gators basketball in Shepparton, it had not witnessed everything the Big V Gators have had to offer.
From blaring tunes over the loud speaker to the young cheersquad bashing metal kitchen utensils whenever the Venom had the ball on offence, it was an evening of entertainment from start to finish.
The crowd rode every lay-up, pull-up jumper or nothing-but-net trey with the team, and the experience was one Musings HQ would repeat in a heartbeat.
But why, for a game with as much importance as Saturday’s, should the crowd be limited at its maximum to a crisp 750 people?
The issue of the lack of funding for upgrades to the stadium is a wheelbarrow this column has pushed before, but Musings HQ is picking up the handles once again.
Let me put a scenario to you which, if the Gators continue with the form they rediscovered on Saturday night, is every chance to come to fruition.
Say, for argument’s sake, that another 500 fans cram into the stadium for the home leg of the Gators’ upcoming semi-final series, lifting the side to a big victory again.
The squad then takes that momentum and runs with it all the way to the grand final series in a few weeks’ time, booking yet another massive home fixture in the process.
What happens then when, caught up in the frenzied run of their region’s team, 1500 willing supporters storm the gates of the stadium in an attempt to catch the grand final match in the flesh?
The answer is simple — at least half of them would be turned away and leave the night disappointed.
As of the end of June last year, the City of Greater Shepparton had a population of just more than 65000 people.
How can we call ourselves the regional sporting capital of Victoria, which in turn is the sporting capital of Australia, if barely of our city can pack into the premier stadium in the region?
The Goulburn Valley needs a stadium with the capacity for at least four-figure crowds to witness performances like the Gators produced on Saturday.
It is the minimum the sport in this region deserves and would open the door to a plethora of possibilities when it comes to hosting not only the Gators, but NBL and WNBL fixtures as well.
If we do not act soon, this column fears Shepparton will be left behind when it comes to regional basketball events.
So take a leaf out of the cheersquad’s book, drag your pots and pans outside and start banging them together for the state and federal governments to hear — before it is too late for anything to be done at all.
Imports Spencer Coleman (32 points, 27 rebounds) and Cameron Vines (19 points, six rebounds, five assists) starred for Shepparton Gators in their Big V elimination final win against Warrandyte Venom on Saturday night. They spoke to News sports journalist Tyler Maher after the 92-66 success at Shepparton Sports Stadium.
‘‘It felt great, our goal was to play as hard as we could no matter what happened and play four quarters and we did that tonight,
"I’m proud of our group. We needed everybody engaged, whether it was the last man on the bench or the first man on the court and we all did that and we were all locked in.
"We had no kinks in our chain and on top of that we had a phenomenal crowd here, which really helped boost us through some rough patches.
"It felt great, when we hit shots, when we made big plays they were into it. To get that love and that support behind us, that’s half of what we play for.
"I’m happy with (my numbers, 32 points) of course you want to score that, but my goal was to go out and get as many rebounds as I could and play hard defence for my team tonight.
"We had lost four out of five and they were all about three points or less and they really hurt, that’s almost worse than a blowout because we were right there and it’s just little things that we needed to fix, and we did that tonight.
"We were not going to let another close game slip away, so we made sure we put some distance between us and the other team and I’m proud of our guys.’’
‘‘It was great, it was a different level of intensity overall for the team.
"We just came out and we know that we can play better than we have been playing the last couple of weeks so this whole week we’ve just been grinding and trying to get back to the way we normally play and tonight it just showed and next game it will just build our confidence.
"We kept stating to each other that this is the playoffs, it’s 0-0 the record, we’ll start over and we’re going to get these wins and we’re going to show everybody why we’re the best team in the league.
"Spencer killed it, it was great to see him step up in the way that he did. That’s what we came into the tournament saying, we don’t care about points overall just as a team whoever scores that’s who we’ll get the ball to and Spencer was just hot tonight so we just kept feeding him.
"Whoever’s hot next game, it could be Matty (Bartlett) or it could be anybody, whoever’s hot we’re going to keep feeding them and we’re just going to get these wins and that’s what matters most.’’