When this season started, the newly formed under 14 team had no idea whether it could be competitive at national league level. Following this thriller on Sunday, they now know that they're one of the best 8 teams in this age group in the country.
Having finished second in the South West Division, Tigers stepped into the unknown on Sunday to take on opponents from Buckinghamshire who had an impressive 12 and 2 record in the South Division. It was a massive boost that key players, Ben Hayes and Jon Orrells, had both recovered from fractured ankles in time to play key roles in this match.
The half was incredibly tight with two well-matched sides playing some top quality basketball. Tigers came out strongly at the start of the match, with scores from Orrells and Dom Hinchliffe making it 4 – 0, but Bucks quickly evened things up and the pattern of the half was set. Although Hornets were ahead by 5 (17 – 22) at one stage, most of the time, the sides were within 2 points of each other. The strength of Taunton's squad was a big factor, with a further six players (Hayes, Spencer Gormley, Dan Burke-Ward, Jack Penny, Adam Hood and Kester Duncan) getting on the score sheet, but it was Hayes who was pulling the strings from the point guard position.
A point down (27 – 28) at the start of the second half, Tigers then made what looked like being a decisive move. They opened up a 10 point lead built in large part on 13 points from Orrells, who repeatedly made intelligent cuts to the basket.
Bucks looked to be getting frustrated, but they regrouped and cut the deficit to 4 points (53 – 49) early in the fourth quarter. Tigers held on to a slender lead and, with just 1 minute on the clock were just 63 – 62 ahead. Orrells then scored 2 points from close range and followed up at the other end of the court with a huge blocked shot. Two free-throws from Hinchliffe with 14 seconds to go seemed to have sealed it, but Bucks immediately struck again with a 3-pointer to make it 67 – 65. With time running out, though, the visitors were forced to foul and Hayes converted 2 more from the free-throw line to finally complete the win.
Coach, Matt Nolan, was clearly proud of his team's performance,
“Today was a great chance for us to benchmark ourselves against a club from another area. To be honest, I didn't expect to beat such quality opposition, but our players stepped up massively. We have to be proud of the fact that (with Plymouth, Stroud and Exeter all going out this weekend) we're the only team in the South West to progress to the quarter finals.”
Tigers now travel this weekend to East London to take on Newham All-Star Sports Academy in the quarter finals.