Rockets Soar to U18 Women's Cup Success

Reading Rockets had to dig deep to beat Charnwood College Riders 65-60 and crown themselves Under 18 Women’s National Cup champions.

After building a significant lead throughout the 1st half, the Rockets led by as many as 25 before being reeled in by the Riders as the game wore on. That made for a tense final quarter as both teams tried to find a way to secure the win. Ultimately Reading were able to hang on to their lead as Charnwood came up just short.

MVP honours went to Anabelle Latore Cria as one of three Reading players with 17 points, though Cria added 12 rebounds to lead her team on the boards.

After a lopsided first half, Charnwood looked to be heading for a third straight Under 18 Women’s National Cup Final defeat. Following a measured start from both teams, Reading quickly put their foot down and left the Riders trailing. 10 points from Carmen Segura Moreno (17 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals) was one reason for the difference, another was Charnwood’s 1/9 effort from beyond the arc. When the Riders did manage to put points on the board, the Rockets found an immediate answer and continued to stretch their lead.

With the score at 23-9 by the first break, Reading pushed on in the 2nd quarter. The deep ball still refused to drop for Charnwood (1/15 from range in the first half), who fell behind by 20. A Jarju Saffie assist was undoubtedly the highlight of the frame, slashing down the lane and drawing in the Riders’ defence before a short hook pass to a wide open Latore Cria led to the easiest of lay ups. Were it not for Ugne Pranculyte’s only basket of the game in the closing moment of the half, the Riders would have been down by north of the 20-point mark. As it was, the difference was 19 at 46-27.

Even the most diehard of Charnwood fans would have been fearing the worst as Reading’s lead hit 25 early in the 3rd, but it was here that the Riders finally got the spark their offence needed. A pair of triples from captain Niamh Kelshaw (nine points, three rebounds) helped create a 14-2 run that narrowed the gap and provided some hope. Now it was Reading’s turn to struggle, shooting 5/16 from the floor in the frame and 0/5 from range. A 57-42 score with 10 minutes to go was still comfortable for the Rockets, but momentum was clearly with their opponents.

That proved to be the case as the Riders roared back into contention. Reading looked disjointed on offence, scoring just eight points the rest of the way. Charnwood were having no such issues, particularly Holly Wright (10 points, eight rebounds, four assists, four steals) who added eight points to her side’s tally down the stretch.

Lucy Threlfall’s only basket proved to be a big one, adding a triple with 70 seconds to go to trim the Reading advantage to 6. That difference would shrink further before a foul on Wright would send her to the line for three free throws. Despite being the hot hand, she only hit 1-3 to make the contest a one-score game at 63-60. The nerves from Reading were clear to see but they iced the game emphatically with a slick inbounds play, slipping Noa Sanchez Marquez free under the basket with just a few seconds remaining for a gimmie lay up to seal the win.

Reading Rockets Head Coach Blai Benlloch, “We’re really happy and we trusted ourselves to win, but we know that we need to cool down as some of our players are playing tomorrow (in the WNBL National Cup Final). But we can celebrate for a few hours as this is still really important for us.”

Charnwood College Riders Head Coach Krumesh Patel, “That was disappointing for us, that’s a team we should beat and I know we can beat. The 2nd half showed it. We were a little nervous in the 1st half, they took a run and didn’t have to work too hard for it with easy scores. Once we started making them score in different ways, we slowed them down. That gave us a chance and if we’d done that for the full 40, it’s a different game.”