The Sevenoaks Suns are WBBL Playoff Champions again after their 60-55 victory over a very strong Leicester Riders side who pushed them to the limit in at the o2 Arena on Sunday.
The Sevenoaks Suns entered the contest clear favourites sporting a perfect league record and just two losses in all competitions, but crucially one of those losses was the Leicester Riders in the WBBL Trophy semi final.
The Riders and their young superstar Holly Winterburn entered as major underdogs with a much shorter bench than what Ed Percival Molten WBBL Coach of the Year winner Len Busch had at his disposal but with a win over the very strong Sheffield Hatters in the Semi Final a confidence that they could over their status and win the WBBL Playoffs.
The game could not have started better for the Suns with a 9-0 scoring run that looked like it might get out of hand. Back to back triples from Brea Elmore and Dee Hayward bridged the gap built by Ta’Yani Clark and the Suns.
Winterburn started to show just why she will be playing for Oregon with impressive drives to the basket and a baseline reverse layup assisted by Elmore but all about the initial cut and finish from Winterburn. Janice Monakana entered the contest with a bang scoring 7 straight points for her side and punishing misses on the other end.
The second quarter looked to be a continuation of the first as the Suns extended their 21-15 lead but the Riders upped their defensive intensity and began to force the Suns into mistakes. Elmore and Winterburn continued to put points on the board and shine, but it was the work of Mollie Campbell and Dee Hayward that began to turn the tie with tireless battling on defence, getting in lanes and causing transition baskets.
Winterburn once again had the o2 on their feet with a gorgeous euro-step layup and it was an individual moment of brilliance from Elmore that gave the Riders their first lead of the half late in the quarter.
The lead could have been greater were it not for Cat Carr, who was playing good basketball without scoring, making her first basket of the game with 21 second left in the half.
The second half started well for the Riders with a 6-0 run to see them take a 10 point lead, but their offence would dry up with static offence and rushed possessions and despite some excellent defending with Elmore and Oliver having a block party Carr, Clark and 5 points from Monakana saw the lead eroded to just one.
The Riders went on a 5 minute scoreless run, during which the Suns regained the lead, Koppl making two from the line and Monakana adding two more. The gap was down to one as Kate Oliver was flawless at the line with 3:19 to play in the quarter. The quarter would end 42-41.
The final period started well for the Riders as they were able to close the gap and eventually regain the lead with Brea Elmore playing some incredible scoring drives. The Riders held a 4 point lead at the midway point in the period but the Suns, led by Monakana went ton an 9-0 scoring run to get a 5 point lead with under two minutes to play as the Riders once again went cold on offence.
A great defensive stand by the Riders forced a 24 second violation giving them the rock, down by three. Holly Winterburn missed two chances to tie the game up and the Suns took it the other way Cat Carr finishing along the baseline and going to the line to add one with just 19 seconds left in the ball game. Cat Carr doesn’t miss those and it was a six point ball game with Riders calling time-out with their season on the line.
The Riders inbounded the ball but the play appeared to break down badly, a long range triple went up from Navarro and had the gym on its feet as it went in! The Riders quickly fouled, but with 10 seconds to play and the Suns not in the penalty the Suns were able to run time off the clock before the refs called the fouls.
Finally, with 5.3 seconds in the game Cat Carr was fouled and sent to the line to shoot 2. She sank them both clinching a third consecutive WBBL Playoff Championship for the Sevenoaks Suns.
Ta’Yani Clark, whilst quiet on the scoresheet, finished the game with an incredible, and game high 16 rebounds, which no doubt gave her side the edge in this incredibly tight contest.
Quotes to follow.