It was labelled ‘The Big One’ as Newcastle attempted to smash the all-time attendance award for a WBBL Championship game. It was a home game at the Vertu Motors Arena and once again the Eagles as a club excelled.
Off the court a brilliant crowd of 1,303 did indeed break Eagles own record and became the biggest ever crowd to watch a WBBL game. Unfortunately, off the court was the only place Newcastle won as Riders produced a very disciplined and professional display to take a big win.
The Eagles organisation will take the plaudits of producing such a memorable event. Wor Flags, packed terracing and a visit from Newcastle United Women’s Team all adding to a terrifically loud and proud Geordie audience that showed their passion from the off.
Unfortunately, it was a frustrating night for the Eagles players as they failed to continue their great recent form that had seen them garner three consecutive wins. Perhaps though it was no surprise at the final buzzer to see them record a loss given the quality of the opposition.
Leicester came into the game second in the WBBL table with a 6 wins 1 loss record. Their only loss at the hands of the seemingly unbeatable London Lions. A side the Riders will face in the WBBL Cup Final. Add in progression in the Trophy last weekend and it’s easy to see the strength of the Leicester side.
It was strength in depth added to great ball movement superb rebounding and high percentage shooting that gave Riders the edge over Newcastle although to their credit the Eagles never gave up and played hard right to the end of the game.
Eagles actually opened the game’s scoring with Zoe Willis promoted to the starting five in place of captain Marina Fernandez hitting a big triple from Maggie Justinak’s assist. Leicester though were soon in front scoring the next six points of the game.
Justinak hit a triple but Riders Olianna Squires hit back-to-back replies and suddenly it was 12 – 6.From their neither side dominated in the opening period. Eagles twice cutting the gap to three only for ex-Eagle Jess Eadsforth-Yates to net the last bucket to end the first with Riders 20 – 15 up.
Leicester with McKenzie Johnston pulling the strings and back court partner Squires in scoring mode jumped out to a 7 – 0 start to the second to give them their first double-digit lead of the game. Eagles needed and called a time-out.
It didn’t stem the tide though as another eight unanswered points put the visitors in front by eighteen and forced another Eagles time-out. This time Head Coach Noelia Cacherio’s team did respond.
A 10 – 1 run cut the gap to single figures but Johnston had the last say for the visitors and gave them a 43 – 32 lead to take into the locker rooms.
The third period started in similar vein to the second with seven straight points for Leicester once again establishing their superiority. Nette Lewis did stop the Riders run but the lead was slowly building and got to 21 before Katie Nolan scored the last basket of the third to leaving Leicester leading 65 – 46 with ten minutes to play.
Any hopes of a famous Eagles comeback were crushed by another efficient effort from Leicester and back-to-back baskets from Beth Sarson peaked their lead at 80 – 53. Eagles though showed great character and Katie Nolan led a 7 – 2 finish for Newcastle.
It was never going to be enough as Leicester took a convincing and deserved win with the better all-round team effort spearheaded by their excellent starting guards Squires and Johnston.
So, a defeat for Newcastle on the court but that record crowd and wonderful atmospheric occasion certainly showcased what a great organisation the Eagles are and how much they bring to the world of professional Women’s basketball in the UK.