Underdogs Ipswich claim one last scalp to lift the NBL National Cup
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Basketball Club’s women produced arguably the biggest win in the club’s history to lift the National Cup with an underdog, comeback triumph against the Essex Blades at UEL Sportsdock on Sunday afternoon.
Clutch shooting and finishing from Ipswich proved decisive in a comeback victory which will be remembered at the club’s Copleston Sports Centre base for a long time to come.
Having trailed Division One leaders Essex by as many as 17 points early in the second quarter, Ipswich demonstrated poise, resilience and togetherness to eliminate that deficit, finally taking their first lead of the match midway through the final quarter.
Division Two North leaders Ipswich, who are playing in their first competitive season, had beaten three other top-flight sides on their way to the final and showed no signs of being intimidated by Essex’s hot start.
The contest was never likely to be a quiet affair, with more than 200 Ipswich supporters in attendance and a reasonable showing from Essex too. The Suffolk crowd, comprised of friends, family and representatives of every Ipswich team from the senior men to the Under-12 girls, made a cacophonous noise throughout.
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The Blades controlled the early exchanges, building a double-digit lead in the first quarter behind outside shooting from former Ipswich pair Ellie Shaxon and Charleene Tom. Ipswich were loose with the ball against high-pressure defense.
The second quarter began in similar fashion, with Essex’s superior size telling in a physical encounter, but Dannielle Cazey, Harriet Welham and Esther Little all connected from long range as the Suffolk side chipped away at the deficit.
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Into the second half, Maya Price and Little combined for seven quick points as an early third-quarter run forced Essex into their first timeout of the game.
The Blades stemmed the tide but never looked like regaining their early lead, and going into the final period they held a slender two-point advantage.
Ipswich finally took a first lead of the game with five minutes remaining, after a Little breakaway layup followed threes by Welham, Cazey and Ashleigh Pink.
A Little three-point play and a Welham free throw then gave Ipswich a vital two possession lead, as Essex sank deeper into foul trouble.
Price then produced two absolutely vital blocks as Ipswich closed out the game in the most clinical fashion, building the lead to nine points even without Essex opting to foul and stop the clock in the final minute.
The final buzzer signalled raucous celebrations among the team and throughout the stand of Ipswich supporters.
“I can’t put into words what has happened today,” said coach Nick Drane.
“Our travelling supporters, the many more people back at home watching the live stream and all the unbelievable work done by our many volunteers makes me so very proud of our club.
“These girls, and I do not say this lightly, are the best team I have ever coached.”
Welham was named a thoroughly deserving Most Valuable Player of the final. The 21-year-old scorer came up with key baskets every time her team required them and played outstanding defense on former teammate Shaxon in the fourth quarter despite a significant height disadvantage. She finished with a game-high 19 points to go with seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
“It’s still sinking in – we are all inching ourselves,” admitted Welham. “We always had high hopes this season, but to actually win the Cup is a dream come true.
“Coach Drane couldn’t have prepared us any better and now the focus is on getting promotion.”
Price finished with 15 points, six of which came in the final two minutes as she hit clutch layups to extend Ipswich’s advantage. She also finished with a game-high 12 rebounds and three blocks, two of which came within the crucial last two minutes of the game.
Little, Pink and Cazey finished with 11 points apiece and each hit vital shots in the fourth-quarter run which saw Ipswich finally take the lead.
Ipswich now turn their attention to an undefeated campaign in Division Two as they continue their charge towards promotion and rematches with Blades next season.
Second-place Derbyshire Gems visit Copleston on Saturday (1pm),