Current league leaders and National Cup winners, Manchester Magic, entered the Dragons Den as clear favourites on Sunday afternoon, in the National Trophy semi-final. Having already defeated their hosts on three occasions this season, it was clear that Chris Mellor’s team would have a real fight on their hands if they were to progress to final, in Sheffield later this month. However, Bradford kept the game close in the first quarter of the game, finishing the period only three points down, at 20-23.
But the damage was done in the second quarter, in which Manchester increased their lead to 22 points, following a disastrous final five minutes of the half, for the home side. Bradford went back to their locker room on the wrong end of a 35-57 score-line and knowing that they had a mountain to climb if they were to turn the game around.
Despite the defeat, American power forward, Ricky Fetski, had probably his best game of the season for the Dragons, scoring an impressive 30 points in front of his home crowd. Fellow American, Nicholas Moore contributed 11 points to the Dragons total, but beyond these two there was little return for the team’s efforts.
Manchester will now face Reading Rockets in the National Trophy Final and they are looking a good bet for completing a clean sweep of all competitions this season.
The previous day, whilst Manchester were enjoying a day off, the Dragons made the long and arduous journey to Gillingham, to face Kent Crusaders in their scheduled league fixture. Kent, like Bradford, have struggled to make an impact on the league table this season, their only victory so far being in the opposite fixture in the Dragons Den.
But Bradford knew that victory on Saturday would put breathing space between themselves and the relegation places, currently occupied by Kent and Tees Valley Mohawks. With that in mind, Bradford started the game with sheer determination, restricting their hosts to only 2 points in the opening eight minutes. As the opening period came to a close, Bradford were firmly in control of the game, at 5-21.
Although the game levelled out in the second quarter, Bradford increased their lead to 17 points by the half way stage, with the teams leaving the court at 23-40.
It has been well documented that Bradford’s Achilles heel has often been the third quarter, this season and by the mid-point of this period nerves must have been rising as Kent cut the Dragons’ lead to single figures. However, rather than going under, the Bradford players fought back to finish the penultimate period 14 points ahead, with the scores at 40-54.
There was very little that Kent could do to prevent the Dragons from claiming a precious victory and the game ended with the Bradford side 17 points ahead (62-79).
Moore headed the Bradford scorers with 25 personal points, assisted by Fetske with 15 points of his own. Rihards Sulcs claimed his first double-double of the season, putting up 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Coach Mellor reflected on the weekends action, saying, “(Against Kent) We came out ready to play in the first quarter and built a 17 point lead. Our energy was good defensively and that set the tone for the whole game really. They made a run in the third, but we managed to hit a couple of 3’s to keep it relatively comfortable. We knew it was a big game for us in terms of the league table. Verses Manchester, we were in the game, down 7 points, but a terrible last five minutes of the (first) half saw us with a massive hole to get out of after the break. We showed some fight in the second half to get it to 10, but they had all the answers on the day and we were second best.”
Bradford return to action in the Dragons Den next Saturday, in a league fixture against Leicester Warriors (tip-off 6:15pm) that will see the return of former Dragon Carl Pearson, now with the Midlands club.
Elsewhere, the Dragons suffered a rather miserable weekend with defeats for all three of the junior teams. The under 18’s men went down 45-31 at Sheffield Junior Sharks II, on Saturday, whilst the under 14’s were beaten at Tees Valley Mohawks, 78-61, later the same day. On Sunday, the under 16’s travelled to Cheshire Wire, where they were on the wrong end of a 110-30 drubbing.
All photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY