Taunton Tigers Women made the long road trip to Birmingham for the first ever meeting with the newly formed Birmingham Force Team, which has made an unbeaten start to the season. Whilst form is difficult to read early in the season, a tough game was expected, particularly as Tigers were very aware that with a modicum of good fortune in previous games they would also have been going into this game with a 100% record. Tigers had made a great impression in their last outing in the National Cup, when they put up a fantastic defensive display against high flying Division 1 leaders, UWIC, and they were anxious to capitalize on this against Force.
Tigers got off to a tremendous start and roared into a 9 point lead after only 2 minutes. Tigers running of the lanes coupled with a fully functional motion offence, was paying dividends. Excellent player and ball movement created all sorts of problems to Force, with Emma Gough and Hanna Byrne causing problems on the perimeter, and Hannah Watkins and Laura Dyke on fire inside, the girls were getting their just scoring rewards as they took Force apart at both ends of the court, with Abby Pow and Elly Leader prominent. Soft reaching fouls undid much good work and allowed Force a chink of light from the foul line, but not before Tigers closed out the quarter 20 – 14.
The second quarter saw a renewed focus from Force and a change of tactics as they went into a challenging zone for the remainder of the game. Reaching fouls by Force were not called and early dispossessions allowed resurgence from the Birmingham outfit as they hit 7 unanswered points to ease level with Tigers. With Force in early foul trouble, and not for the first time this season, Tigers did not make the best of their foul shot opportunities as valuable points went begging as 8 unmade points were squandered from the free throw line. Tigers, instead of going into the break with a very comfortable lead, only had a 4 point margin at 27 – 23.
The 3rd quarter was a scoring struggle for both sides. Although Tigers initially stretched their lead through a Jenny Ridgeway 3 pointer, they failed to maintain the momentum of the first half, and with Force in the ascendancy and increasingly getting away with contact fouls, Tigers were forced to work hard for any offensive opportunities. 10 unanswered points from Force edged them into the lead for the first time in the game, before a Laura Dyke lay up allowed Tigers to end the quarter leading by one point at 34 – 33.
The last quarter was a really tense and hard fought affair as Force threatened, and then took away, the slender Tigers lead, helped by a particularly resilient zone defence and a few unforced errors by Tigers. Baskets by Emily Farthing, Hannah Maddocks, and Hannah Watkins steadied the nerves as Tigers eased level again, before a deadly 9 point streak from Birmingham gave them a 10 point lead with 4 minutes remaining. A Tigers time out steadied the girls for an assault on Force and they had their just reward as the lead was cut to 6 points. Another time out and a different focus cut the lead to a tantalizing 3 points with 30 seconds to go, but with Force in possession, time ran out completely and the tightest of games went to Force 49 – 46.
Tigers coach, Jim Hartston commented after the game,
“That was another really tough, physical encounter and a very competitive game, which has left us with little reward for the efforts we put in. We had our best start to a game this season, but allowed ourselves to be unsettled by the physicality of Force, who made the very best of their scoring opportunities today.”
“I cannot fault, and have huge pride in, the huge efforts each of the girls put in today. Unfortunately we did turn the ball over too much for comfort, and this wasn't helped by the referees not being stricter with the contact foul calls. Our failure to hurt the opposition through our inconsistency from the free throw line cost us dearly, and was the difference between the 2 sides, it is something we will need to address if we are to ensure we get the rewards we deserve.”