A very strong Sheffield Hatters came to the ABC on Sunday with a view to going through the 2017-18 Northern Conference programme unscathed. Their proud record became ‘scathed’ following a contest which was more thrilling than any Agatha Christie novel and was a wonderful advert for junior girls basketball. Every aspect of the encounter oozed quality. (That includes the after-game refreshments!) The game was played in tremendous spirit by both sides, it was superbly officiated by referees C Hindmarch and K Johnson plus table officials C Andrew and F Vourliotis and the standard of play was of a very high standard for this age group. Even the spectators made a positive contribution. They elevated the occasion with their enthusiastic support and were on the edge of their seats or benches throughout.
Things initially looked as bleak as the beast from the east (which put me in mind of a girl I once meant in Norwich many moons ago!). Sheffield’s starters are bigger and stronger than ours with 3 players who hold their own (in the absence of servants) in the u16 Premier League and they utilised their physical superiority and experience to power into an ominous 3-11 lead 5 minutes in.
I shook things up by way of a couple of changes in personnel and we upped our game significantly enough to win the remaining 5 minutes of the opening stanza 13-10. For a change, I won’t be mentioning any names in this report. There are 2 reasons for this – I don’t wish to single any individual out because every Mystic deserves equal praise for this heart-warming display and I don’t want to give too much away in case any future opponents are so bored that they read this drivel!
The second quarter began almost as if it was the first quarter. Instead of a 3-11 deficit, it was a 6-11 one which put us on the back foot at 22-32 mid-way through the period. Did our young team have the resolve to dig deep to do what King Canute couldn’t do and turn the tide? Oh yes! They are so adaptable and determined that they did just that. A super-human all-round team effort amazingly restricted Sheffield’s talented sharpshooters to a measly 2 baskets over the next 5 minutes and actually rendered them scoreless for the final 3 minutes of the half. This enabled us to go in at half-time on a high at 34-36.
No prizes for guessing what happened in the first part of the third quarter. Offensively, Sheffield are far from predictable. When you come to grips with one aspect of their mode of attack they switch to another. Effective use of the high post caused us sufficient problems to go 11 points down before we put theory into practice well enough to counter it. We responded yet again with a 9-4 run to give us what Salford General Hospital used to be called. We were still behind, as we had been for the whole contest, at 49-55 but had shown so much mental toughness that even William Hill wouldn’t have accepted any bets on us coming out on top.
I, for one, remained optimistic. The girls had fought so hard to stay in touch and Sheffield had had – is that a stutter? – to battle for supremacy for much of the time that something had to give. I felt that a principle reason for the repeated patterns of the first 3 quarters was down to fatigue. Our opponents had used only 7 of their 12 players; we had used as many as 11. This could well be why they ran out of steam in the latter stages each time. If so, could we make them pay?
We could. We managed to prevent them pulling away during the opening 6 minutes of the fourth quarter but were still 5 down at 57-62 with only 4 minutes to play. What a time to go on an 8-0 run! We took the lead for the very first time in the 39th minute and showed great composure, togetherness and maturity in our end game to hold on to the slender lead we had forged. To limit a team with the offensive power of Sheffield to only 10 points in the final 10 minutes when the outcome is in the balance speaks volumes for Mystics’ never-say-die attitude. This was an outstanding display from our girls of which we should all be very proud.
Many thanks to all who helped in so many ways- again no names as I’d probably miss someone out.