Sevenoaks Suns were crowned WBBL Champions for a third time on Sunday despite an incredible Leicester Riders comeback in a thrilling encounter.
The Riders thrilling second half comeback saw them break the Suns’ undefeated league record, however the Suns were still crowned champions with the Riders needing to beat Sevenoaks by at least 12 points to carry the race for the title to the last day of the season.
Sunday’s title decider saw Sevenoaks looking to carry over their perfect record after their crucial win over the Riders on Wednesday which put them in the driving seat for the Championship. They started well and raced into an 18-point lead going into half-time, and looked to be well on their way for their third WBBL Championship.
The Riders fought back with a vengeance in the second half and held the Suns to only 18 points for the half. Azania Stewart posted a monster double-double of 10 points and 18 rebounds for the Riders, whilst Catherine Carr led the champions with 21 personal points.
“It feels great,” said Suns Head Coach Len Busch. “I would have liked to finish with a win, but sometimes you don’t get what you want.
“I am so proud of this group for their ability to stay focused on the mission of getting better each time out and being ready to play. There are so many ways for a team to slip up in this league. We respect all the teams and try our best to be ready to compete.”
Busch said the leadership of his veteran players were an important factor into the team’s success, whilst also heaping praise onto the majority of his team.
“The leadership of our veteran players, especially Cat Carr and Ta’Yani Clark was certainly an important factor,” said Busch. “Also the play of Lavinia Da Silva, especially with the departure of Julia Koppl in early February, has been critical. Lavinia has been fantastic. Janice Monakana, Renee Busch and Irene Garrido-Pérez have all continued to make important contributions. All the other players who may not have played a lot of minutes, were important in pushing their teammates in practice so we would be ready to play.”
Reflecting on the challenges of the season during the current pandemic, Busch noted that it had been a very “trying” time for the club but they were going to enjoy every day they had together as a team.
“Things finally settled down and the team started to play games and improve each time out,” said Busch. “We decided as a group to enjoy every day together and take it one practice, one game at a time. Then getting through so many games in the last 30 days has been a satisfying achievement.”
Now having retained the league title, the Suns’ attention will no doubt turn to the WBBL Playoffs, which they also hope to retain as current holders.
And as for what lessons he learnt during the Championship season that he’ll take into the Playoffs, Busch added, “Take one game at a time and enjoy every step. Learn from today and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Elsewhere in the league, Manchester Mystics managed to secure fifth place with an away victory over Newcastle Eagles, setting up clash with Nottingham Wildcats in the Playoff Quarter Finals.
A strong end to the first half culminated in a 9-0 run for the Mystics as they built a comfortable lead going into the half.Nicolette Fong Lyew Quee led all scorers with 23 points as the Mystics looked to put the game out of sight in the third quarter, holding the Eagles to only 10 points in the third period as they secured that fifth seed in style.
Durham Palatinates picked up their fourth win of the season over fourth place Nottingham Wildcats in a closely fought affair. The Wildcats were leading by a point going into the final quarter, however the Palatinates erupted in the final 10 minutes, outscoring the Wildcats 21 points to nine.
Goretti Hurtado Barbeito posted 19 points and eight rebounds for the Palatinates, whilst Chelsey Shumpert led the Wildcats with 12 points as she racked up her 1000th WBBL point.
Having already captured the final eighth Playoff spot, Oaklands Wolves came out on top against Caledonia Pride, bringing them level on points with Newcastle Eagles going into the final day of the WBBL season. Amari Carter led the way for the Wolves with 21 points as Oaklands really picked up the pace in the second half after being held to only 11 points in the second quarter.
And Essex Rebels wrapped up their regular season with a convincing win over Cardiff Met Archers as they snapped an eight game losing run to carry some momentum into May Madness, where they will face London Lions in the Quarter Finals.
Leading by 10 points going into the second half, the Rebels really turned the screw on the Archers and held them to only 21 points in the second half. Andrea Kohlhaas and Deangelique Waithe posted monster double-doubles for Essex, with the former posting a game high 22 points to go with 11 rebounds.