An incredible game of WBBL basketball saw the home town Newcastle Eagles pull off a sensational victory over the high-flying Caledonia Gladiators in front of a superb 395 raucous and faithful fans in the Vertu Motors Arena.
It was a game that lived up to it’s pre-match hype and delivered in a thrilling manner that delighted all connected with the Eagles organisation. It was perhaps not the prettiest game of basketball you’ll ever see but the result was what it was about.
That result went the way of Newcastle and lifted their season record to 7 wins and 7 losses taking them to a consolidated sixth place in the table and very much in the play-off hunt.
For Caledonia it was a blow to their top four hopes as they were made to lick their wounds after 40 minutes of the most intense hard-fought basketball you’re likely to see at any level.
Clearly the referees had decided they’d let the players decide the game and both sides responded by playing brutal defence and stunt each other’s attacking and offensive capabilities. It made the spectacle all the more compelling to watch.
Every quarter was one where no inch was conceded and every loose ball, missed shot and frantic rebound was contested by both side’s players as if their lives depended upon it.
At times it was almost too frenetic but by the end of the pulsating 40 minutes the noise levels inside the Vertu Motors Arena clearly confirmed which way the final score had gone and what it meant to all Newcastle’s fans, players and officials.
It was a defensive slog with both teams cancelling each other out for long periods. The Eagles early on were shut out by Caledonia and then responded in kind. Caledonia just having the better of the opening ten minutes to take the period 13 – 10.
The war of attrition continued into the second quarter. Thrust and counter thrust continued as there was nothing between the teams. Newcastle claiming a three-point period 16 – 13 to take the teams into the locker rooms level at 26 points a-piece.
If anyone thought the first half was unbelievable defence then they would have been astonished that the levels were raised even higher in the third.
Newcastle were just about beginning to get on top and took a four-point lead into the final quarter with the score at 39 – 35. That fourth and final stanza was where Newcastle made their move.
They kept focus, showed great determination and began to get baskets to match their defence. They forged to a nine-point lead at 47 – 38 deep into the last ten minutes which in the context of a low scoring game was huge.
Back came the Gladiators though with ex-Eagles and GB superstar Chantelle Handy almost single-handedly dragging her side back into the game with a trio of triples that closed the gap to only two points with a minute to play.
The Eagles though were not to be denied and they kept calm getting the ball into play and with Caledonia in foul trouble picked up the crucial visits to the free-throw line to help seal the deal.
Maggie Justinak showing remarkable composure to sink three of four from the charity stripe to take the Eagles to a superb victory and one that will live long in the memory of those that witnessed it.
It should be remembered that this was a Caledonia side that had ended the seemingly unbeatable London Lions 52-game winning streak and that had only lost twice in the WBBL all season. They had also beaten Newcastle 75 – 44 in the season’s opening encounter.
That was the measure of this tremendous victory for Head Coach Noelia Cacheiro and her team. A team led by Captain Marina Fernandez who top scored with 12 points. The only Eagle in double figures although six others also got on the score sheet.
For the Gladiators Erin McGarrachan had 20 points but significantly only seven in the second half and none at all in the final crucial period. Handy had 17 nine of which came with those late 3-point efforts.
But in the end the only statistic that was important was the 54 – 49 final score line in Newcastle’s favour as all took a deep breath and a moment to recover after a breathless night on Tyneside.