U14 girls play-offs last 16. Manchester Mystics U14 II 53 Harris Federation Knights 51.
For a second team to qualify for the play-offs is highly commendable. To then get through to the Quarter Finals is exceptional. To do so when trailing by 7 with 90 seconds to go in a tight, low-scoring affair is bordering on the miraculous!
Harris Federation Knights not only has the nation’s longest U14 team name, they are also blessed with possibly the physically strongest. We would have stood no chance in a tug of war head-to-head! When we really needed her, Oldham’s most powerful teenager, Victoria, decided to abscond to Austria (maybe to challenge Arnold Schwarzenegger to an arm wrestle.) We certainly missed her rebounding prowess.
As predicted, this was never going to be a tie in which I could fully involve all 12 Mystics, but I’m pleased to say that they all rejoiced as one in the final celebration, which shows what wonderful team spirit we have. In a game such as this whereby the outcome is as unpredictable as how many crimes Donald Trump will go unpunished for, every substitution is likely to be game-changing.
It was immediately evident that Harris’s talented #13 made everything tick for them and after Jane picked up her second foul early on, it was left to our much-improved team defence to ward off her strong drives to the basket. They did well collectively, which reduced the opposition to trying their luck with pot shots from distance. It turned out to be their lucky day because 9 of their 14 points came via this route, with three two-handed 3 pointers thudding off the backboard and through the hoop.
This meant that, despite being the more creative side, we could only muster the slenderest of 1st quarter leads at 15-14. A combination of ‘big match nerves’ plus a tendency to rush and look for the killer pass resulted in too many missed lay ups and turnovers. We were also struggling on the boards against a very strong rebounding team.
The second quarter proved to be equally close. This affair was now as tight as any Yorkshireman, most of whom view every pound in their possession as a prisoner! Knights shaded it 15-16 to tie proceedings at 30 apiece at half-time. We were the fundamentally superior outfit, but lack of experience in close games had made us play too quickly and over-complicate things. My half-time team talk centred around slowing down, relaxing making shorter passes and being more aggressive in our rebounding. I assured the girls we would be fine!
The third quarter did not go well. I made too many changes which upset our rhythm so that we only managed 4 baskets in 10 minutes. This meant we trailed by 5 with 10 minutes to play. That may not sound much of a deficit, but in an even, low-scoring game, clawing it back would be as difficult as trying to eat soup with a fork!
We continued to struggle on the boards, but our hard-working team defence meant we were still in with a fighting chance if we stayed focused and more composed. We did. The five who came out for the fourth quarter sparkled like Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond wedding ring as we quickly narrowed the gap to one at 42-43 with 4 unanswered points. A great play by the Londoner’s leading light restored their lead before potential disaster struck. We missed two open lay ups, and they increased the margin to a whopping 7 thanks to a couple of speculative heaves, ironically from the previously anonymous #7, which crashed, rather than swished, home.
Knight’s excellent coach now called a time-out, after which it became obvious, he had told his players to run down the clock. Having spotted this, I called out of my own to offer a counter derived in discussion with my able assistant James. The response from the 6 players I used in the dying embers of the contest was magnificent. We scored 9 points without reply in the final minute and a half, combining it with such good interior team defence that our worthy opponents could not find a way to add to their tally.
The reaction from those on the bench plus the home support was worthy of the occasion. We had won this ‘cup final’ to create another one, away to the country’s number 2 seeded team, Milton Keynes in the land of the plastic cows… If we can capitalise on lessons learned from today’s encounter, we could cause them problems.
Many thanks to Louise and Andy for their never-failing assistance, to James for his insightful observations, to Alina and family for helping to set up the court, to all parents and supporters as well as to a group of young ladies who never give up.