Saturdays visitors to the Dragons Den sat in third position in the league table before the game, fourteen points and nine positions ahead of Bradford. However, in the opening period of play, you would have been forgiven for thinking that it was the other way around.
It took a couple of minutes before either team got onto the scoresheet, with both teams missing chances early on. However, Rihards Sulcs was the first to put points on the board, on his first start since returning from injury. Suddenly, it seemed as though Bradford couldn’t miss, and by the time Hemel called their first time-out, their hosts had stormed into a 17-6 lead.
The Dragons continued to dominate the remainder of the quarter, closing out the opening period with a commanding fourteen-point advantage, at 24-10.
Bradford have often been accused of struggling in the third quarter of games and it was to be no different on this occasion, with Hemel gradually eating into the home sides lead. Unlike the previous quarters, Bradford struggled to find the basket, whilst Hemel found a new gear to their play. At one point, Bradford’s lead was down to three points, however a couple of Sulcs free throws at the end opened it back to five. The quarter finished at 65-60 and it seemed as though Bradford were in for a nervy final period.
The fourth quarter started with the visitors again reducing Bradford’s lead to three points, giving them hope of upsetting the home crowd. It was however a false hope as the Dragons went on a 13-0 scoring spree to open the gap back to sixteen. It looked as though it was game over, however the visitors had other ideas and with only 8 seconds remaining on the clock they had miraculously pulled the scores back to within 3 points.
In a final attempt to regain possession of the ball Hemel’s captain, Simon Kearney, fouled on Jason Swaine, who nonchalantly converted the resulting free throws to put the game beyond Hemel’s reach. Bradford’s victory, 87-82, was no less than they deserved.
Adria Rodriguez Vinas, who put in his best performance to date for the Dragons, finished the game with 21 points whilst Rafi Saipe also impressed with 18 points, all of which came from three pointers. Both Moore and Sulcs added 16 points apiece to the teams total, with Moore also taking 15 rebounds to record his customary double-double. For the visitors, Nikolas Rhodes sank an impressive 31 points to finish as the games top scorer.
The Dragons now move up one place in the table to eleventh, but more importantly the win gives them some slight breathing space between themselves and the relegation spots.
Sundays National Trophy Quarter final, provided a welcome break from League action, against another team that has struggled to find their form this season. However, it was Westminster that opened up a first quarter lead, 23-18, and despite Bradford winning the second period they were still three behind at half time, 45-42.
The Dragons again narrowed the gap in the third period, but still found themselves two points behind, 69-67. However, in the final quarter the Dragons stepped it up a gear and finished the game with a thirteen point victory, at 85-98.
Sulcs led the Bradford scorers with 23 points, closely followed by Henri Bongoma with 22. Moore added another 18 points to the Dragons total with Vinas also sinking a further 16 points to round off a successful weekend.
The Dragons will now face a home tie against Manchester Magic in the semi-finals, with the game due to be played on Sunday, 7 February.
Coach Mellor commented, on Sunday evening, “We played well in both games. Our attitude and intensity was much better than in the last few games and we eliminated a lot of mistakes we’ve been making. We rebounded well and when both Hemel and Westminster made runs and cut into our lead, we handled it well and closed out well. This should give us some confidence but we’ve got to kick on now, starting next week at London Lituanica.”
Around the club, there was no game for the under 18’s this weekend, but the under 16’s faced a home fixture against Cheshire Phoenix, at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College on Saturday lunchtime, with the visitors claiming the spoils, in a 55-70 victory.
In a curtain raiser to that game, the Dragons under 14’s claimed an emphatic victory, 112-37. Against Killamarsh Derbyshire Arrows.
All photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY