The final buzzer sounded on Bradford Dragons season on Sunday, as the Reading Rockets overturned a third quarter deficit to record their tenth straight victory in a fiercely contested play-off quarter final fixture, 89-78, at the Rivermead Leisure Centre, in Reading.
The Rockets, who finished third in the final league table, three places above Bradford, had the home court advantage and with a big crowd behind them, it was always going to be a tough battle for the Dragons. However, both sides have been in excellent form in recent weeks and in these one-off, life or death fixtures anything can happen, as was demonstrated earlier in the day when seventh placed Hemel Storm overturned home court advantage at league runners up, Team Solent Kestrel
The game remained close and, with just under seven minutes played, Marcus Gooding (sponsored by Gooding Funeral Services) took a lay-up to give the Dragons their first lead of the game (11-13). Rihards Šulcs (sponsored by Templewood Photography) extended the lead to four points, However, late scores from Jonathan Foulds, Tim Gill and Soukup, sent Reading into the first break with a three-point advantage (19-16).
Laing reduced the deficit to a single point, early in the second quarter and although Ed Potter stretched it back to three for the Rockets, Marcus Gooding bucketed a three-pointer to level the game once more. The game swung both ways through to the half way point in the second period, but then Reading captain, Daniel Carter hit a couple of threes to give his team some clear space (31-25).
Soukup then hit another three for the hosts, before a foul on Eisley Swaine sent the Bradford player to the line for two shots. Swaine made no mistake with the first but failed to make the second and as the buzzer signalled the end of the first half, it was Reading that held the slimmest of leads, 41-40.
The Dragons came out with fire in their bellies for the third quarter and Sulcs quickly sank a lay-up to give them the lead. Ali Sbai responded with a two for the Rockets, however six points from Gooding quickly gave the visitors a five-point margin (43-48).
With little over three minutes of the third period played, the Dragons had built up a substantial nine-point margin (46-55) and looked in total control. Despite maintaining that lead through the next couple of minutes, Reading managed to pull themselves back into contention and within just ninety seconds they had closed the gap to a single point (58-59).
But, Bradford managed to hold on and, as the penultimate period drew to a close, it was them that held a four-point lead (63-67).
Šulcs was, once again, quick off the mark in the final quarter, extending Bradford’s advantage to six points. However, within ninety seconds of the restart, scores from Gill and Soukup had put the hosts back in the lead (70-69).
Šulcs levelled it from the free throw line and then Laing put the Dragons back ahead by two points, but that was to be the final time that the visitors would see the summit.
Reading slowly, but surely took a firm grip on the game and with just two and a half minutes of play remaining they held a solid seven-point lead (83-76)
Disraeli Lufadeju pulled it back to five for the Dragons, but with time running out they were forced into giving away fouls, which allowed Reading to pull further afield from the line. With no further scores from the Dragons, the home side took the victory, 89-78, and booked their place in next weekends semi-finals.
Gooding top scored for Bradford with 25 points, followed by Laing on 19 points and Šulcs with 17 points. The Latvian also took 10 rebounds to record a double-double.
The game high score went to Readings Soukup, who beat Goodings total by a single point, registering 26 points towards the winning total.
With the season now over, Mellor will have the time to reflect on the season and to prepare for the next campaign, which starts in September.
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography