City of Birmingham Rockets women earned a much-needed victory against fellow strugglers Barking Abbey in a real nail-biter at Nechells Wellbeing Centre.
The win was only secured after a great defensive effort to prevent Barking scoring at the death.
Rockets are now just one win below their opponents in the standings and they will take a lot of confidence into their remaining fixtures as they battle to maintain their WNBL Division One status.
Birmingham began with Michelle Turner, Catarina Seixas, Milly Harrison, Grace Brownell, and Heather Maxwell, who returned to the starting lineup after an injury layoff.
Barking gained possession from the tip and subpoenaed the scoring with a three. However, Brownell hit back instantly for the home team with a 3-pointer of her own.
An excellent Maxwell steal then led to a Seixas two-pointer, giving Rockets their first lead.
Sarah Mullgrave was introduced into the action early on and both she and Harrison added points from the foul line to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Mullgrave then added a well worked layup, making a positive early impact on the game.
Although Barking led as the first quarter came to a close, Nuri Seyedagha-Calderon made both free-throws after being fouled attacking the basket, cutting the lead to just three points as the quarter ended 12-15 to the visitors.
Mullgrave continued her impressive start in the second quarter when a Seixas steal enabled her to drive to the basket for two, before an offensive rebound from Maxwell set her up for another close-range score, putting Rockets back in front.
The momentum was now with Birmingham, cheered on by an enthusiastic home crowd, Turner sank a jump shot for two extending the lead to three and forcing Barking to call timeout.
Mullgrave scored another layup following the stoppage but Barking fought back to take the lead once again, showing more composure after talking things through.
Maxwell responded again though for Coach Emery’s team, making both shots from the line to level the scores at 22-22.
Enkeleda Pashaj and Seyedagha-Calderon added further points from the free-throw line, as it was a clear tactic of the Rockets in the first half to attack the basket and draw fouls. Mullgrave made yet another two, taking her personal tally to 10, ending the quarter with just one point separating the two teams, 26-27 with Barking ahead.
After the break, Brownell put the home side back ahead, starting the third quarter with two points. Turner and Seixas soon extended the lead, both sinking open three-pointers, taking Birmingham to their biggest advantage of the game, 33-27.
However, Barking fought back and went on an impressive 8-0 run to re-take the lead, forcing Coach Emery to call a timeout to talk things through.
Turner was clearly fired up after the timeout and took back the lead with a big three from deep. Mullgrave was reintroduced to the game and back on the score sheet too, with a further basket from close range.
In a game which ebbed and flowed constantly, it was Barking who grabbed back the lead once more, only for Seixas to seize the initiative with a well-made basket to put Rockets one point ahead, 40-39.
There was another twist to end the third quarter though, as Barking went on a 5-0 run, taking back the advantage. Rockets’ debutant Sandra Hewakowska, the latest to step up from the youth team, managed to make a layup in an attempt to close the gap but Abbey took their biggest lead of the game, 42-48 going into the final period.
Spurred on by the home crowd, Rockets came out all guns blazing at the start of the fourth, knowing how much victory would mean for their season. Quick hands enabled Turner to steal the ball and set Seixas on her way for a fast-break score.
Brownell then earned another steal and drove all the way to lay in under the basket. With the home team now on a roll, Maxwell levelled the scores with a close-range bucket and Seixas put Birmingham back ahead going into the closing stages.
Barking were not finished yet though and they retook the lead 55-53, but then a timely Turner three-pointer and a layup from Seyedagha-Calderon with their next possession made the score 58-55, which proved decisive.
This turned out to be the last score from Rockets, meaning they had to hold onto the lead for the final minute. Several timeouts were used, making it a nervy wait for the spectators. Barking managed a layup with time still remaining and had regained possession when they called their final timeout with just 5.9 seconds remaining.
As the ball was inbounded, fantastic defence from the Rockets meant that Abbey simply couldn’t get a shot away and the home side took the victory 58-57 after an exciting, topsy-turvy encounter. The victory gives Birmingham every chance of avoiding relegation, with some huge fixtures still to come.
Birmingham’s top individual performers included Seixas with 14 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals and Mullgrave with 14 points and 6 rebounds off the bench. Brownell had a great all-round performance, with 9 points, 11 rebounds and 5 steals and on her full return to action, Maxwell pulled down 10 rebounds and made 4 blocks.
Our next home game is on Saturday 10th February as we welcome Thames Valley Cavaliers to the Nechells Wellbeing Centre. As always, your support would be well received – click here to get your tickets today!
Match Report by Jess Ellicott