The Bradford Dragons faced a home double-header weekend and whilst most of the UK were out enjoying the bonfires, there were fireworks of a different kind on display in the Dragons Den. A league defeat against Essex on Saturday, in a high scoring and closely fought game (100-107), was followed by the KitKing Trophy semi-final against Hemel Storm. A strong defensive performance from the Dragon’s saw them qualify for their first ever top flight final in the clubs 22 year history, beating last seasons Trophy winners 80-70.
Essex were the visitors on Saturday evening, for a National Basketball League Division One fixture. The Dragons had won the last five fixtures between the two sides, but the Colchester based side have recruited well over the close season and go into the game with a two win, one loss record this season to date.
Although Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Gio’s Italian Bar and Kitchen) put the first points on the board, Essex quickly ran up a six point lead (2-8) within the opening two minutes of the game. Whilst Bradford momentarily retook the lead later in the opening quarter, the period ended with the Rebels holding a four point advantage (24-28).
The visitors maintained their lead throughout the second quarter, extending it out to eleven points at one stage (32-43), and although the Dragons kept pulling themselves back into the game, the sides returned to the locker room at half-time with a gap of seven points in the Rebels’ favour (41-48).
After the break the game continued in the same vein, with Bradford pulling back to within easy reach of the Rebels, only to see them then pull away again. With only ninety seconds of the penultimate period remaining, Essex’s advantage was once again up to eleven points (60-71), but yet again the Dragons pulled back to seven points (66-73) before the buzzer.
Justin Williams (sponsored by the Ireland family) capitalised on a technical foul by Essex’s Kyron Martin, in the opening moments of the final quarter, to start a period of Dragons’ momentum. When Joe Buchanan (sponsored by Meryl Valentine) sank two free throws, just three minutes in, the home side were ahead (80-81) for the first time since the opening period.
That lead didn’t last long, although the scores remained close right through to the dying embers of the game, but with Bradford desperate to regain possession the Rebels were able to build from the free throw line and reestablish their seven point gap to close out the contest (100-107).
With both sides hitting the one-hundred point mark, the main difference between the two sides was Essex’s long range shooting which saw them hit fourteen treys from twenty-eight attempts, in comparison to just six from twenty-four by the home side.
For the first time ever, two players shared the Calderdale College player of the Game Award, as there was absolutely nothing to separate the two. Zion Tordoff (sponsored by Bubbles and Barks Dog Grooming) registered 18 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists, whilst Rihards Sulcs took 17 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.
Justin Williams and Jordan Whelan also registered 18 points apiece, whilst Micah Savery-Richards (sponsored by Milestone Design Ltd.) was also in double figures with 13 points.
But the game high score went to Essex’s Kyron Martin, who recorded 24 points, eighteen of which were from beyond the arc.
The following day, last season’s undefeated quadruple winners, Hemel Storm, travelled to the Inspire Centre for the KitKing Trophy semi-final tie. Hemel have not been as dominant so far this season having already lost two of their five league fixtures so far. Two of the big guns from last season’s side have moved on to BBL teams, Aaryn Rai going to Cheshire Phoenix and Taylor Johnson moving to Plymouth City Patriots. But the team have assembled another talented group and are once again expected to be competing for silverware at the business end of the season.
Hakeem Sylla put the first two points on the board for Hemel, within four seconds of the tip, only to be cancelled out by Justin Williams just twenty seconds later. Move ahead another two minutes and the Storm had established a seven point lead (2-9) and Dragon’s fans could be forgiven for fearing the worst.
However, the Dragons were up for the fight and at the mid-point of that opening quarter they had pulled back to just behind (8-9). Seth Swalve added two from the free throw line for the visitors but then a Sulcs layup, followed by an extra from the line pulled the scores level.
The next seven points went the way of Hemel, leaving Bradford needing to claw their way back again. And claw back they did!
Savery-Richards sank a two point jump shot, followed by a brace of treys from the ever reliable Williams. The American point-guard then added a further two points with a layup and the quarter ended with the Dragons holding a three point advantage (21-18).
During the opening four minutes of the second quarter the two sides matched one another almost shot for shot with the game once again tied at twenty-eights. But then Bradford produced an unanswered nine point run to put them firmly in front (37-28), although Hemel were not giving up yet and before the buzzer sounded for the half time interval they closed the gap to a mere four points (44-40).
After the break, with their batteries recharged, a strong Dragons’ defence kept Hemel from adding to their score for the first four minutes of the third quarter, by which time the home advantage had been stretched to fourteen points (54-40). That was soon to become a sixteen point lead (58-42) just before the halfway point of the quarter.
Once again, a determined Hemel set about gradually pulling themselves back into the reckoning and by the time the hooter sounded at the end of the penultimate period they had more than halved the difference and were now just seven points behind (60-53).
The final quarter got off to a slow start with only a single point being scored in the first two and a half minutes, Sylla sinking one of two attempts from the foul line. However, the two sides finally found their rhythm and started adding to their scores. Bradford increased their lead to thirteen, before Hemel brought it back down, but there was nothing they could do to close the gap completely; In fact, the Dragons completed a clean sweep of all four quarters, once again increasing their lead to ten points, as the game drew to a close (80-70). Bradford had secured their place in the final.
Justin Williams was a clear choice for the Calderdale College player of the game, registering a game high 33 points, along with 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block. Jordan Whelan contributed 12 points for the Dragons, whilst Micah Savery-Richards (11 points) and Zion Tordoff (10 points) were also in double figures.
Sam Newman led the scorers for Hemel with 18 points, followed by Hakeem Sylla and Seth Swalve who both contributed 15 points each.
The Dragons will not find out who they face in the final until later this month, with the second semi-final, between Reading Rockets and Derby Trailblazers, taking place on 26th November.
Bradford face another double header this coming weekend, with an away trip to newly promoted London Elite on Saturday. Tip off at the Capital City Academy takes place at 6:30pm.
Then on Sunday the Dragons entertain second division side Bristol Academy Flyers II in the National Cup, with a 4:15 tip time at Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre.
In celebration of reaching the KitKing Trophy final, the Dragons are offering supporters the opportunity to get free admission to Sunday’s game. Supporters have until midnight on Saturday to book their tickets via www.bradforddragons.co.uk/tickets before they revert to full price. (Note: a 100% discount will be automatically applied at checkout on all bookings made before the deadline).