City of Birmingham Rockets women suffered a gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of fellow league strugglers Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), despite having led for the majority of the game.
Rockets held the advantage until the last few minutes, but conceded the final nine points of the contest to be edged out at the death.
In their final outing of 2023, Birmingham did all they could to end the year on a high and put on a show for the enthusiastic home crowd.
Opponents, Anglia Ruskin, started just a place ahead in the standings and hopes were high for a home win.
Birmingham began with Michelle Turner, Catarina Seixas, Enkeleda Pashaj, Milly Harrison and Sarah Mullgrave – with the latter getting an opportunity to show what she can do as a starter.
Right from the outset, defences were on top. ARU were a physical outfit and restricted Birmingham to mainly long-distance shooting.
At the other end, Coach Emery’s side deployed zone defence effectively, ensuring that the opposition were unable to make the most of their height advantage.
On the offensive side, Seixas opened the scoring for Rockets with a long-range two, before Mullgrave tied the score at four with a two-pointer, assisted by Pashaj.
Turner then grabbed a defensive rebound, moved the ball to Seixas, then got it back again to hit a big three-pointer and give Rockets their first lead.
Some good defence from both sides kept the scores low – a pattern which continued all the way through the game.
Preccila Ocrah had a positive impact off the bench at both ends of the court, making a jump shot for two assisted by Ellie Pierpoint. The first quarter ended 9-8, with Rockets edging just ahead after a slow scoring quarter of play.
Turner started the second well with another three-point jumpshot set up by Pashaj, to give Rockets the lead again after temporarily falling behind. Nuri Seyedagha-Calderon added her first score of the game with an open jumper for two extending the lead slightly.
After a quiet period of play for both sides, Grace Brownell made two after being cleverly found by Seixas. The latter then assisted Pierpoint for an impressive three-point play.
An edgy passage of play from both teams ended the half, including numerous fouls and timeouts which stalled any momentum.
A combination of turnovers and foul trouble for Coach Emery’s team enabled ARU to close the gap from the foul line before Mullgrave ended Birmingham’s scoring for the quarter with two from open play. The half ended 21-20 with Rockets just a single point ahead.
Harrison started the third positively with a driving layup. The basket was assisted by Mullgrave, who then made a layup of her own as Rockets started to work more in the post to good effect. With the next score, Harrison added two more after great vision from Turner found her open.
However, foul trouble continued to plague the hosts, who reached the penalty limit within the opening minutes of the half. This was keeping Anglia Ruskin in touching distance.
Rockets were also sent to the line several times but failed to take full advantage, making just a third of their free throws on the night. Despite having issues at the line, Rockets held the lead going into the final quarter thanks to layups by Harrison and Seyedagha-Calderon.
The third ended with Rockets up 35-31.
After a Seixas steal to start the fourth quarter, she found Turner open to nail a jump shot and keep the Rockets’ advantage at four points.
However, the lead was soon eradicated from the free-throw line as foul trouble once again hurt the home team and forced numerous substitutions too.
Seyedagha-Calderon got the home team going again though, showing great determination to grab a defensive rebound and go all the way for two. Seixas then put Birmingham back in front with a big three-pointer, assisted by Mullgrave.
Unfortunately, Rockets then remained scoreless for the remainder of the game. A series of timeouts disrupted the flow and despite the players’ best efforts, they couldn’t get a shot to fall. Gradually, ARU drew level, then pulled ahead.
After a disappointing final quarter, the game ended 42-48 with the visitors taking the win.
Turner was the only player to score in double figures with 10 points and seven rebounds. Seyedagha-Calderon made seven points, 11 rebounds and two steals, whilst Harrison registered eight rebounds, two steals and shot 60% from the floor.
Defeat means that we head into the mid-season break with it all to do in 2024, needing to claw back a four-point deficit at the lower end of the WNBL Division One table.
Match Report by Jess Ellicott