City of Birmingham Rockets Women suffered an away defeat at CoLA Southwark Pride in South London on Sunday after decisive scoring streaks either side of halftime left Rockets with too much to do.
Birmingham remained competitive throughout, but couldn’t get close enough to threaten the home side.
After an impressive win at home last week, Rockets had climbed to a 2-3 record in their first ever WNBL Division 1 campaign, and had hopes moving to a 3-3 record; although this was always going to be a tough asignment against an established Division One side.
Birmingham started with Michelle Turner, Nuri Seyedagha-Calderon, Catarina Seixas, Enkeleda Pashaj and Milly Harrison. Possession was lost from the tip and it was a slow start from both teams with several missed shots before Pashaj scored Birmingham’s first points.
However, a timeout was soon called by Coach Emery as Pride opened an early lead with Rockets struggling on offence early on.
When play got back underway, Turner calmed some nerves with a trademark three-pointer, closing the gap to four points. This led to a good passage of play for Birmingham in defence with Sarah Mullgrave and Turner combining for a steal, then Danie Wallis scoring two with a driving layup.
Maru Biblioni and Preccila Ocrah injected further energy from the bench and both quickly registered scores, with a Seixas jump shot sandwiched between.
CoLA were beginning to pull away though, largely due to out-rebounding Rockets and making the most of second chance opportunities.
However, Birmingham remained in touching distance with Ocrah closing the scoring for the quarter with two from the foul line. The first quarter ended with Rockets down 21-15.
At the start of the second, Southwark began to pull away courtesy of a 10-3 run.
The pace of the game increased and Coach Emery’s team were struggling to match the intensity of the home team. Ocrah was Birmingham’s biggest threat on offence and she converted a three-point play after being fouled in the act of scoring a layup.
Nevertheless, with the score now 31-18, Birmingham used another timeout.
Sarah Mullgrave again began to make a big impact off the bench, as she has done several times already this season. She sank a jump shot for two, assisted by Ocrah, on her way to 10 points, five rebounds, one assist, two steals and one block.
Rockets matched CoLA for the last few minutes of the half, as Ocrah and Seyedagha-Calderon rounded off the points, the latter assisted by Pashaj. This brought the score to 25-39, leaving Birmingham with plenty to think about going into the break.
The start of the third quarter proved decisive, as a 16-4 run by CoLA all but ended the contest, taking the score out to 55-29 and giving the visitors a mountain to climb, facing a 26 point deficit with 16 minutes left to play.
Turner had assisted Pashaj for a lay up to start the half, then Harrison hit a jump shot. However, the momentum quickly shifted in favour of Southwark and Coach Emery was forced to talk it over with his team.
Birmingham came out of the timeout with more energy. Turner immediately stole the ball and went all the way for the driving layup herself. Although she had a quieter game on offence, Turner was her tenacious self around the court, finishing with three rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block.
Rockets forced a CoLA shot clock violation and matched their opponents for the rest of the quarter. They moved the ball better and attacked the basket wherever possible. Mullgrave added four points from layups, then Biblioni drove to the basket for two of her own, ending the quarter 64-37.
Birmingham started the fourth with a 5-0 run of their own as Wallis and Biblioni scored twos and Ocrah made a free-throw. Seixas then cleverly evaded her marker to sink a long-range two before ill discipline halted any Rockets comeback, as a technical foul enabled CoLA to score from the foul line, then retain possession and slow the game down.
With the clock running down and the game over as a contest, a Pashaj steal led to a Mullgrave two-pointer, then Mullgrave made a steal herself and drove to the basket herself to add two more. Harrison secured Birmingham’s final points of the game with a two in the post, again assisted by Pashaj.
The game ended 78-50, with CoLA securing a deserved victory.
There were some positives for Birmingham, including Ocrah joining Mullgrave in scoring double-figures, showing what she’s capable of with 10 points, seven rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Once again, nine different players contributed to the scoring and, in patches, Rockets demonstrated an ability to compete against one of the division’s stronger outfits.
Next up, we welcome Ipswich to the Nechells Wellbeing Centre on Saturday 25th November. This is part of back-to-back games over the weekend, as we also welcome Sheffield Hatters on Sunday for the National Cup Quarter-Final. Both games are 5pm tip-offs. Click here to get your tickets – come along and show your support!
Match Report by Jess Ellicott