Bradford Dragons hosted four times National Basketball League Division One Champions, Team Solent Kestrels, at Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre on Saturday evening. In a thrilling encounter the Dragons fought back from seventeen points down in the second quarter to take the win, 97-93, in overtime.
The Kestrels had been a permanent fixture at the top of the league table over the previous four seasons, but following a slow start to the current campaign find themselves in unfamiliar mid table territory this time around. In the reverse fixture, back in October, the Dragons had subjected the South Coast side to a heavy, twenty-three point defeat (60-83) in the Solent Sports Complex, Southampton.
However, whilst Bradford were currently on a three game losing run, the Kestrels had won their last four fixtures.
The opening score went Dragons’ way, courtesy of Ricky Fetske who saw his jump-shop drop into the basket. That was quickly cancelled out by Elias Poorman of Solent, and as the opening quarter progressed it seemed that current form was going to play a big part in this game.
American forward, Ricky Madison, put Solent ahead and, whilst Jordan Whelan levelled from the foul line, Madison struck again to restore the away side’s lead. Greg Durand added a further two points before Justin Williams brought the Dragon back within striking distance (6-8) just before the five minute mark.
But, the next five minutes was one way traffic with Solent clocking up the next ten points, with no reply. Fetske finally got the Dragons back on the scoreboard with a lay-up just before the buzzer, leaving the Dragons ten points down at the first scheduled break (8-18).
It didn’t get any better in the second period as the Kestrels soared into a seventeen point lead (12-29), within three minutes of the restart. Fetske sank a couple of layups to settle the home side’s nerves and slowly they started about the task of closing the deficit. When Fetske added a trey, with little over a minute of the half to play that deficit was as low as seven points, but Sam Akano added a final score for Solent secured the guests a nine point advantage going into half time (33-42).
Whatever Chris Mellor said during the interval clearly had the desired effect as Bradford looked the sharper of the two sides in the third quarter. Five minutes in, Dave Walsh sank his second trey of the period, leaving his side within touching distance of the Kestrels (49-50).
Kai Walker opened the gap back to three but scores from Williams and Whelan completed the comeback, giving the home side their first lead since the opening minute of the game (53-52).
Solent responded with a two from Madison, following which a trey by Kyron Martin put them back in control. But Bradford were in no mood to submit and a Fetske single, followed by another triple, this time from Williams, levelled the scores again (57-57). The two sides grappelled for the remainder of the quarter but Williams sank from the foul line to give the hosts a single point lead (61-60) to take into the final period.
The sides matched each other in the final period, both sides building four point leads, only to be cancelled out by their opponents; however, the biggest lead of the period came with just three minutes left on the clock when another Williams trey put the Dragons eight points to the good (78-70) and it looked as though the game was theirs.
But the Kestrels were not grounded yet and set about closing the gap, and close it they did. When the buzzer sounded to indicate the end of regulation play, the two sides were tied at eighty points apiece. Overtime beckoned.
Walsh opened the additional five minutes with a triple, and halfway through the extra period the Dragons held a commanding nine point lead (92-83). Whilst Solent never gave up, the difference was just too much for them to make up and the Dragons saw the game out for the win (97-93).
The Official Calderdale College Player of the Game, Justin Williams registered a joint game high score with 28 points and he was assisted by Jordan Whelan (20 points) and Rick Fetske (19 points). Also in double figures were Dave Walsh and Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Gio’s Italian Bar and Kitchen) who both contributed 13 points to the winning tally.
Solent’s Ricky Madison was the other player on 28 points, adding 14 rebounds to record a personal double-double.
Bradford’s long run of eight consecutive home fixtures comes to an end this coming weekend when the league’s bottom side, Westminster Warriors enter the Dragon’s Den. The Warriors’ performances have been markedly better than the stats would suggest and with the fight against relegation they are sure to provide a tough test for the Dragons. Tip off on Saturday evening is at 6:15pm and tickets are on sale via the clubs website.
It was a mixed weekend for Bradford Junior Dragons with the under 16s starting the weekend with a good win (68-45) at home against City of Leeds Black. The under 14s followed this up, again against City of Leeds Black and despite putting up a strong fight they ended the game on the wrong side of a 42-47 scoreline.
Meanwhile the under 18’s made an away trip to Durham Lions, who just edged the young Dragons out in a tightly fought, 74-67, game.
Photographs © Kristelle Templonuevo