Following on from yet another game as untaxing as the havens of Jersey and the Isle of Man against the very young Tameside Royals back up squad which our U14s sauntered gently through 100-19, Mystics were suddenly required to step about 5 levels to compete with championship rivals, Nottingham Wildcats. We almost managed it but ended up losing a very tough, even contest by a slender 4 points.
We missed two key elements, not hydrogen or argon but leading scorer, Charli Wroe plus too many high percentage shots which proved as costly as letting my wife loose with my credit card, against highly disciplined, much bigger and often uncompromising opponents who used their size advantage to good effect. As we tend to do against the better sides, we started poorly to trail by 6 at 5-11 five minutes in. In such a close game, this ultimately proved crucial. Our first four offenses proved as fruitless as a dead apple tree due to sloppy passing. An early substitution put an end to this and improved our team defence but did nothing to assist our offensive efficiency which struggled to find a way through a packed key. We remained as potent as watered down shandy until I re-introduced Beth McLoughlin. She responded with a 3 and a 2 while the outstanding Holly Bryant hit her seventh point of the quarter to complete our mini-revival which saw us shade the quarter 12-11.
Having settled down, we had given glimpses of some effective ball and player movement with the two Ronnies, sorry Ellies, prominent. This continued to be the case for the opening 5 minutes of the second period with a second 3 from Beth and two 2s from Lucy Bryant who came into the game like someone caught in the rain without an umbrella- under the weather- and one each from Holly and the unshakeable Courtney Kenyon-Betts. With these two also doing a wonderful job containing the opposition’s star performers, DJ Cassanova and Laetitia Willis, things were looking as rosey as Noddy’s cheeks and Fergie’s nose combined at 23-13.
Nottingham’s response was to sink even deeper in the key to make it as congested as the M6 at rush hour. Our response to this was to over-dribble and then try to force a pass through a space as tight as Pavarotti’s neck in a size 10 collar. Unsurprisingly, our scoring suddenly took on the look of a plum turning into a prune. It dried up. A brain freeze then resulted in an unnecessary foul which saw Nottingham convert 2 free throws prior to a 3 pointer to close the gap to 23-20 at half-time.
Despite the under-par beginning and end to the half, we remained confident of maintaining our unbeaten record provided that we had movement on offense and played smart defence. We managed both for most of the third period with Holly and Courtney showing great composure but, with just one minute of the 10 to go, we gave up our 4 point lead due to more silly fouls, presenting our opponents with a string of free-throws which enabled them to draw level at 32-32.
An unexpected twist to events at the outset of the fourth quarter then caught us on the hop via a totally unforeseen scoring spree from Nottingham’s biggest player, Natalie Skathaki. Lauren Addy had done a terrific job in limiting her influence but her 11 points in only 5 minutes swung the game in the visitor’s favour. Trailing 39-43, we had sufficient opportunities to regain the lead but poor finishing, missing 7 free throws in a row, a disinclination to share the ball and a touch of bad luck with 3 shots rouletting round the ring and spinning out rather than in, denied us in spite of a generally excellent all-round defensive display
To the girls credit, we did cut the deficit from 7 to 3 by playing with real intensity in the final stages but ran out of time to finish 43-47. The disappointment displayed after the final whistle may be upsetting but it does mean that the girls don’t like losing. We should be able to use this positively to spur everyone on to work harder in training and learn from our mistakes so that we can raise our level over the rest of the season. We will be put to the test next Sunday at home to Tameside who. like us, Nottingham and Sheffield, have lost just once so far.
Thanks to James, Sammy, Phil and Chloe for their assistance and to all parents for their much-valued support and co-operation.