Newcastle Eagles Women1513917660Win

Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles continued the “Cinderella” story that has become this season’s playoff run by knocking off the second seeded Caledonia Gladiators in sensational style at the PlaySport Arena at East Kilbride in Scotland.

It was yet a further vindication of the togetherness and sheer determination not to lose and extend their season for another week. Now they go to the O2 Arena London next weekend to face the all-conquering London Lions for one last 40 minutes of high-pressure basketball.

Our Eagles Women make the third Playoffs Final in the franchise’s history with victory over Gladiators on the road yesterday. (Photos: Gary Forster)

Those outside of Newcastle had given the Eagles little chance of winning the semi-final. Everyone inside of Newcastle knew that these Ladies had yet another big game within them. So, it proved.

With the demeanour they were exuding and never say die attitude they showed going into the game and during the 45 minutes they took a second successive magnificently thrilling road win against a higher seed to earn a pop at the biggest seeds of all next weekend.

Remember this was a Caledonia side that had played in the EuroCup this season. Who only lost four regular season games during the campaign, two of them to London who they also lost to in The Betty Corona Trophy. They had also only been involved in one close game this season a 4-point loss in Leicester.

Jada Dapaa pulled-off an MVP performance to take our Eagles through to the Final with a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds with 3 assists, 3 steals and 1 block. (Photos: Gary Forster)

A measure of the size of the task for Matt Newby and his players was that in the two regular season games Newcastle played against Caledonia they had lost the first at home by 41 points and the second on the road by 32 points. Surely, too much of gap to close? Not a bit of it!

The Eagles had to show real character from the off as Gladiators USA guard Laken James set off like a house on fire hitting a triple and a deuce as the home side raced into an 11 – 2 lead from the tip-off forcing an early time-out from Newby.

Tierra Hodges with an and-1 play coming out of the time-out looked to get her side going but James tripled again and the lead was still 9 at 14 – 5. Hodges though looked in the mood and Newby introduced Jada Dapaa from the bench and her presence seemed to inspire her teammates.

Newcastle hit back in tremendous style and Hodges and Dapaa got them back to within two points before Chloe Gaynor levelled the contest at 15 points all. Caledonia captain Erin Mcgarrachan though had the last word netting the go-ahead bucket to help her side edge a fast and furious first period.

The second quarter started well for the Eagles who scored the first four points to take their first lead of the game at 19 – 17 and force ex-Eagle and now Caledonia Head Coach Chantelle Handy into a time-out.

And what a response she got from her team who ripped off ten unanswered points to establish an 8-point lead and make Newcastle’s Newby respond with a time-out. Unfortunately, his words didn’t initially work as James netted another triple to move the lead to eleven.

Two Zoe Willis free-throws stopped the run but Mcgarrachan scored again. The Eagles though stuck with it and Dapaa scored the last basket of the half to cut Gladiators lead to seven at 35 – 28 as the teams headed for the locker rooms.

Next stop The O2 in London for our Eagles Women in a historic Playoffs Final for the franchise. (Photos: Gary Forster)

If the half-time score line had shown defences had been on top it was nothing compared to the third period. A real war of attrition broke out as both sides cancelled each other. James who had 17 points in the first half and Sam Roscoe scored a bucket each to put Caledonia up once again by 11.

Then it was a defensive masterclass from Newby’s team who only allowed the home side three more points in the final 8 minutes and 32 seconds of the period. In the same time period, Newcastle only managed nine of their own. Dapaa with four, Hodges with three and an Abby Lowe deuce.

However, it did mean the Eagles just shaded the quarter by 9 points to 7 leaving them going into the final period only five points behind at 42 – 37 and ready for a battle royale in those last ten minutes and what a battle royale it turned out to be.

Newcastle’s defence held firm and Dapaa, Hodges and Lowe again combined for an 8 points to 2 Eagles run to put them up 45 to 44 with just over four and a half minutes to play. The Eagles then had control and led by five points going inside the last two minutes of regulation.

Four points from Caledonia cut that gap to a single point inside the final minute. A free throw from Dapaa and Eagles were up by two with five seconds to play. Caledonia though had one last effort in them as they called a time-out to set-up a play.

They went to skipper Mcgarrachan and though she missed the initial driving layup she got the offensive board and put up the shot on the buzzer to dramatically save her side from defeat as the game was tied and into overtime it went.

Hodges put up huge stats with a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds. (Photos: Gary Forster)

A free throw from Hannah Robb and two more from Ariadna Pujol and Gladiators made the first charge to take a three-point lead. Gaynor made a floater to cut it back to one and then with both sides in the penalty Caledonia fouled Marina Fernandez. The Eagles captain hadn’t scored in regulation.

But showing exactly why she’s captain she cooly netted both free throws to put her side back up by a single point. Robb replied with one from two from the line and inside the final thirty seconds the game was tied.

Both sides missed and the Eagles turned the ball over with ten seconds left on the clock. Handy had one time-out left and took it to set-up her side for one last chance. Out of the time-out they went to James but her turn around jump shot hit it iron and Gaynor grabbed the rebound with 2.8 seconds remaining.

Zoe Willis (Photos: Gary Forster)

As she did so she was fouled by Mcgarrachan and had two free throws to ice the game. She calmly strolled to the other end of the court and netted the two free throws that put Newcastle up for the last time and send them all the way through to next weekend’s playoff final in the most dramatic fashion.

Cue massive celebrations on and off court. Even bigger than the ones the week previous at Sheffield. Somehow, someway the Eagles had found the strength of character, tremendous togetherness and sheer determination and will to win to get over the line.

The statistics will show Jada Dapaa and Tierra Hodges combining for 40 points and 24 rebounds, 22 and 11 for the former and 18 and 13 for the latter and clearly they were crucial in getting the victory. But everyone who stepped on court played their part.

Ice cool Gaynor who netted the two final free throws had 8 points and 9 rebounds and Abby Lowe and Marina Fernandez were, along with their teammates, rock solid on defence. Point guard Lauren Saiki always in control at the head of the side.

Emotions quite rightly and not surprisingly were high. But the turnaround this Eagles side has made since Matt Newby entered the Vertu Motors Arena as Head Coach has been totally vindicated the celebrations and emotions as Newcastle move on to the play in the Final game of the season.

Ticket details for Eagles fans to be in a dedicated section of the stands at this Sunday’s Playoffs Final will be announced later this afternoon.