Bradford Dragons’ season came to a dramatic end on Sunday afternoon, with them narrowly missing out on the final post season playoff berth. Having defeated Barking Abbey Crusaders, 74-70, on Saturday evening and other results having gone in their favour, a win against third placed Loughborough Riders would have been enough to see the Dragons in the playoffs, however despite pushing Loughborough all the way to the final minute, they fell just short of the mark, 79-82.
Barking Abbey arrived in the Dragons’ Den on Saturday evening, just a week after having secured their own survival in the top flight for another season. With nothing for the Kentish side to play for, this could have been an easy win for Chris Mellor’s side, although the Crusaders clearly had other ideas.
The second period followed a similar path to the first, with both sides balancing one another out, although two three-pointers, from Rafi Saipe and Lycoudis, in the final moments, sent Bradford back to the locker rooms just three points behind, 35-38.
The visitors maintained their lead for the opening minutes of the third quarter, however with just under five minutes played another layup by Šulcs finally levelled the game. Fetske then gave the hosts their first lead since the opening quarter, bucketing his jump shot for two and although Barking kept the scores close Bradford finished the penultimate quarter with a slim advantage, 51-49.
Within the opening four minutes of the final quarter, the Dragons’ led was extended to eleven points, putting them firmly in control. But, Barking would not lie down and they slowly brought themselves back into contention. With little under ninety seconds remaining on the clock, the game was once again tied, 66-66. Saipe popped in a two, and followed it up with a couple of free throws to put the Dragons four ahead, and with Barking now forced to give away fouls in an attempt to regain possession, Saipe remained clinical from the line, ensuring that Bradford were victorious, 74-70.
Defeats for both Leicester Warriors and Hemel Storm meant that a win against Sunday’s opponents, Loughborough Riders, would secure at least one more game for the Dragon’s season. The Riders had already secured third place in the league, ensuring a home tie against Reading Rockets and they again had nothing but pride to play for.
The game started with a carbon copy of the previous evening, Fetske to Šulcs, Šulcs with the layup – clearly something they have been working on in training. The game remained tight and with five minutes played there was only a single point to separate the two teams, 10-11.
Suddenly, the Riders stepped up a gear and literally swept the Dragons aside. When the buzzer sounded at the end of the opening quarter the visitors held a double figures lead, 19-30.
Allie Fullah and Fetske pulled the deficit back to seven, early in the second; however, Lougborough remained strong and at the half time interval the gap was back to eleven points, 43-54, and Bradford’s chances of qualification seemed shot.
Three minutes into that final quarter, Loughborough had failed to add to their total and Bradford found themselves seven points ahead, 70-63, and suddenly the crowd could sense an unlikely victory on the cards.
For the remainder of the game, it seemed as though every decision went against the home side, allowing the visitors to get a foothold back in the game. With the scores level, and just thirteen seconds on the clock, Šulcs was alleged to have fouled Niall Harris, as he was lining up a three-point shot, sending the Loughborough player to the line. Harris made no mistakes and those three points were enough to see the Riders over the line and shatter the hopes of the Bradford contingent (79-82).
The game high score went to Bradford’s Jermayne Laing, with 21 points, whilst Saipe put in another good shift with 18 points and Lycoudis contributing 14 points. Fetske clocked up yet another double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
The defeat resulted in Bradford finishing ninth in the Division One table, with Leicester Warriors holding on to eighth and the final play off berth.
A simple statement from Chris Mellor summed up the mood in the Bradford camp. “It’s obviously very disappointing to come up just short of a playoff spot, but I thought we played really well in the second half and gave everything.”
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography