Sheffield Hatters723211869Loss
Newcastle Eagles Women2014172071Win

The Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles who had finished 6th in the Women’s British Basketball League regular season standings travelled to Sheffield to take on the 3rd placed finishing B. Braun Hatters and what a game it was. Playoff basketball at its dramatic thrilling best.

It was made all the more dramatic as in the Women’s League Playoff series each round is a one-off win or go home game. The Eagles having to take on Sheffield away from home against a Hatters side that has only lost once in the own building and that against all-conquering London Lions.

Eagles Women are through to the next round of the Play-Offs. (Photos: Abbie Orwin)

But Newcastle rose to the challenge magnificently and their togetherness, toughness, refusal to be intimated or backed down saw them return to Tyneside with a remarkable victory. As committed and as disciplined performance as they’ve put in all season sees them extend their season for a week at the least.

Matt Newby’s side flew into this game on the back of three straight wins and with the Coach scooping up the April Coach of the Month award. That award full justified as his side have really responded and bought into his ethos. Sunday was the exclamation point on that statement without any doubt.

The win was built on a tremendous first quarter performance where they conceded the first points of the game to Sheffield and the impressive Emma Eichmeyer. Fron there the equally impressive Eagles starting five played great team basketball to rip off 15 unanswered points in reply.

It gave them a double-digit platform from which to work and from that lead they never stopped battling and working to preserve their status although they did have to weather a tremendous Hatters fightback in the remaining quarters.

Sheffield had started that come back in the first period but a Marina Fernandez assist to the phenomenal Tierra Hodges at the end of the opening ten minutes saw the forward give Newcastle a 20 point to 7 lead as the second quarter beckoned.

That was the first comeback run attempted by Vanessa Ellis’ side as helped by an 8 points to 1 run and further shorter efforts they got back to within 4 points at one stage. But Newcastle rallied again. Hodges continued to score and despite picking up two early fouls Jada Dapaa returned to help.

It had become a game of cat and mouse with Sheffield making moves and Newcastle initially finding a way to stop them and stay in front. Dapaa’s 2-point effort restoring an eight-point lead before Hatters netted the last four points of the half to trail the visitors 34 – 30 as the sides headed for the locker rooms.

The expected third quarter barrage from Sheffield came but once again the Eagles hung tough and together. However, Sheffield did finally go ahead for the first time in the game at 38 to 36 after starting the second half in the ascendency with an 8 points to 2 run.

Back came Newcastle once again with Dapaa doing well to help them back level as Sheffield tried to pull away and went back up by three points after Hatters initial efforts. Courtney Clasen then arrived from the bench to nail back-to-back triples to help further keep Newcastle well in the game.

Desiree Ramos who led the Hatters well from the point guard position managed the last three points of the quarter for the home side to level things up at 51 points all and the sides went into a simply sensational final period with everything on the line.

Eagles Women will be hoping for another great performance against Caledonia Gladiators in the Semi-Finals. (Photos: Abbie Orwin)

There was certainly no quarter asked nor given as both teams refused to concede any ground easily and the physical defensive intensity evident especially in the second and third periods was ramped up to another incredible level.

Hatters held sway early but four free-throws from Hodges who kept driving to the basket and earning her rewards put Newcastle back in front again. The sides continued trading and then Lauren Saiki’s driving line-up capped an Eagles 8 points to 2 run that had them up by 65 to 60.

Sheffield closed again to within two but inside the final two minutes a technical foul on Melita Emanuel-Carr after a Saiki two-pointer gave Abby Lowe a free throw and Newcastle another five-point lead.

Ramos tripled twice with a Hodges deuce in between and with 22 seconds to go Hatters called a time-out down by a single point. They missed and fouled Saiki. She missed both free throws and another time-out was called by Ellis this time with 15 seconds left.

Sheffield set-up on last play looking for the win. Inevitably they went to Eichmeyer inside, their main weapon all game. But Chloe Gaynor came up with a huge block on Sheffield’s star performer and in the ensuing scramble for the ball Shauna Harrison fouled Fernandez.

The Eagles Captain walked the full length of the court for the free throws missing the first but converting the second to put her side two points up with three seconds to play. Sheffield’s heave from their own end line being knocked away by Gaynor as the final buzzer sounded.

Cue the celebrations from the Eagles on-court, from the bench and in the stands from the travelling supporters as the Ladies emulated the Men by knocking out the third seeds and set-up a semi-final tie against Caledonia Gladiators up in Scotland next Sunday.

It could hardly have been any more thrillingly dramatic and what a wonderful advert for the Women’s British Basketball League this game was. Two well matched combative sides going toe-to-toe for forty pulsating minutes. It was a shame there had to be a loser but try telling that to Matt Newby and his victorious players.

For Eagles one again Tierra Hodges led from the front with a huge double-double of 23 points and 14 rebounds. Jada Dapaa was excellent from the bench and despite being in foul trouble most of the game came up with 13 points and 9 rebounds.

Abby Lowe scored early and ended with 10 points but her defensive work alongside her teammates and especially on GB International Georgia Gayle was exceptional. Point guard Lauren Saiki with 8 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists always seemed to be the controlling influence Eagles needed.

Excellent contributions from Marina Fernandez who had 7 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, Courtney Clasen with those two big triples for 6 points and Chloe Gaynor with 4 points and 8 massive rebounds and that late, late great block adding the support Newcastle needed to get over the line.

Eagles Women celebrated the victory after the full-time whistle. (Photos: Abbie Orwin)

So, Eagles fly deeper into the playoffs and although Caledonia will represent a major challenge next weekend it’s a challenge Newcastle as the underdogs are relishing and looking very much forward to.