A capacity crowd at Wellsprings LC last Sunday saw the Tigers continue their current string of winning performances in the National League with another fine display in the 1st leg of the Semi-Final Play-offs against Birmingham Athletics and setting-up a ‘cliff hanger’ in the 2nd Leg in Birmingham this coming weekend.
Half-court vs High Tempo, Strong inside vs Fast Break were the expectations in what was always going to be a keenly contested Semi-final game against the team who beat League Runners-up Bristol Flyers in the Quarter Finals.
Tigers eventually won the Tempo contest by imposing their all-court game and latterly scoring heavily on the break. Veteran Graham Jones (at 37) once again brought his end-of-season Play-off experience and form to the game. Leading by example and to the delight of the record crowd for this final home game of the season, his intensity at both ends of the court producing 15 rebounds combined with 20 points always gave Taunton the edge and deservedly resulted in him collecting the Tigers MVP award. Despite both getting into early foul trouble, the balanced and very positive play of the younger Yabsley and Andrews provided the platform to maintain the home side's early 15 point advantage gained by the end of the first quarter.
The home defence managed to limit the visitors' ability to score, although the visitor's Player/Coach Stephen Barnes' big presence inside together with the experienced Smith always posed a threat. However, the Athletics' leading scorer Marchelewicz's early foul trouble combined with the tight home defence also prevented him getting his usual game high points tally.
Despite being side-lined early in the game due to a neck injury — consequential to a heavy fall, Tigers' junior Jordan Seeley returned later in the game with some vigorous play at both ends of the court. But it was the depth of the Tigers' bench that again enabled Coach Heath to always have fresh talented players on court to maintain the intensity and early points advantage. The game was effectively over when a late rally — with three consecutive 3 pointers by Birmingham in the dying minute of the game, significantly reduced the deficit to yield a still comfortable 92 – 75 tally in favour of the Tigers at the final whistle.
However, the crowd's euphoria was tempered by Tigers' Coach Heath's more reserved comments after the game when he described the winning margin as,
“A slender advantage going into the 2nd Leg in Birmingham next weekend. It's going to be tough, but the players have matured so much this season that my expectations have been raised to such a level that we are now able to seriously challenge for major honours.”
A winning combined score from both these games will see Tigers through to the National Final in Newcastle on Saturday 28th April.
Both Tigers' junior teams also started their Play-off campaigns by winning their 1st Round games last weekend. The U16s – who are SW Champions, beat Waltham Forest Spitfires 87 – 52 in their home game at Wellsprings and the U18s had a resounding 47 – 102 away victory over Torbay Tigers. In Round 2 this weekend, the U16s have a home game against London Towers — Huish's Sports Dome, Saturday 21 April at 12.15, while the U18s travel away to Essex & Herts Leopards.