Liverpool capped a perfect campaign with a nail biter of a victory, scrapping their way past a dogged Westminster Warriors side to come out on top 82-74.
The victory was a fitting way to end Liverpool’s spotless season, but they certainly had to work hard to get their hands on the D2 Playoff title. With 12 lead changes in the game and a tight score throughout most of the 4th quarter, the Merseyside outfit pulled out all the stops when it mattered most.
The game’s MVP award went to Liverpool captain Jack Hudson after a well-rounded performance. The versatile guard scored 16 points to go with eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block.
Both teams traded baskets early on to feel each other out, though the Final started with a fantastic intensity that continued for much of the contest. Liverpool’s Mark Rangeley (23 points, six rebounds, two assists) was a constant factor and led the way in the early going with 8 points, including 2/3 from range.
Those points came in handy to counter Justin Hitchman (16 points, three rebounds, three assists), who came out of the blocks firing to score 13 in the 1st. It wasn’t a sustainable pace for the D2M Team of the Year selection but it did provide a warning shot to Liverpool that the Warriors meant business. Hitchman’s output also allowed Westminster to open up a 10-point lead midway through the quarter, but from there, Liverpool would turn on the jets to push ahead themselves.
Rangeley was once again the catalyst, hitting big shots to keep the LBC momentum rolling. D2 Player of the Year David Ulph (15 points, seven rebounds,) also started to grow into the game and aided by a 13-0 run, Liverpool had a double digit of their own by the midpoint of the 2nd quarter. Late baskets by John Lashley (16 points, 11 rebounds, two assists) did reduce the arrears for Westminster, leaving Liverpool ahead 50-41 at the main change.
S E N I O R F I N A L S. 🏆@LBCBasketball go up 8 in the 2nd against @westminwarriors with this emphatic fast break dunk!— NBL (@NBLengland) April 27, 2019
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Liverpool’s significant travelling support were no doubt feeling comfortable as their side moved into their biggest lead of the game during the 3rd quarter, ahead by 14 points. Such a big advantage simply made for an even greater rollercoaster of emotions for the Merseyside fans as 2nd half wore on.
63-49 Liverpool with 5:09 remaining in the 3rd had narrowed to 64-61 as the 4th quarter began and with the Warriors’ momentum growing with every basket, they soon moved into the lead. Although Hitchman had cooled off, Lashley continued to fire and Jon Johnson (21 points, four rebounds, three assists) and Juan Manning (10 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals, four blocks) were now firing on all cylinders. Westminster looked to be nailed on favourites with eight minutes on the clock, but it wasn’t to be.
Refusing to wilt under the pressure, Liverpool instead doubled down and came back stronger. Rangeley, who’d been held scoreless in the 3rd, came up big with two huge triples to help turn the tide and wrestle the lead back in Liverpool’s favour. Westminster continued to fight with everything they had but as the clock ticked down, they just couldn’t get that one key basket when it mattered most. As the empty offensive trips began to mount, the game slipped away from the Warriors, leaving Liverpool and their supporters celebrating well into Saturday night.
Liverpool Coach Delme Herriman: “Unbelievable game. I think everyone was expecting a great game from the top two sides in the league but when we were up by so many points in the 3rd quarter and they made a really good run and went ahead, we just needed to calm down and get some stops. It was a hard season, trying to keep on top of the guys to make sure we didn’t drop a game. It was just keeping players focussed and pushing them to be the best, not just winning the league but winning the playoffs as well.”
Westminster Warriors Coach Dominic D’Souza: “It was a tough game. It went back and forth, close. To be honest, it wasn’t the game that we expected. But we did know Liverpool would be worthy opposition. In the end, when it came down to the clutch, they made their shots and sadly we didn’t.”