City of Birmingham Rockets’ Women fell to a home defeat against a quick and well-organised Loughborough Riders side on Saturday evening at Nechells Wellbeing Centre.
A critical 19-6 run by the Riders which took the score from 12-9 halfway through the first quarter, to 31-15, proved fatal as Loughborough continued their strong start to their WNBL Division One season.
Loughborough maintained a double-digit lead for the rest of the contest with Rockets unable to put a significant enough run together to find a way back into the contest.
The Loughborough lead became as wide as 24 points at one stage, but credit to our women’s side who never gave up and cut the lead to ten points on several occasions, gaining confidence from an energetic home crowd.
However, Riders were able to stem the flow each time and ruthlessly extended their lead once more.
It was a special day at the Wellbeing Centre, as we celebrated the 159th birthday of our partners, the Royal Navy, who had a large presence at the arena and provided entertainment and freebies for the crowd throughout the evening.
Having gained confidence from a great win on the road last week, Coach Emery sent out the same starting five of Michelle Turner, Nuri Seyedagha-Calderon, Catarina Seixas, Milly Harrison and Grace Brownell.
A slow start saw Riders score the first points of the game with a jump shot for two.
Seyedagha-Calderon then got Rockets off the mark with a two, before Turner was fouled and made two shots from the line making the score 7-4 Riders.
Sarah Mullgrave then made an instant impact when she came onto the court, draining an open three-pointer, assisted by Enkeleda Pashaj.
Then, after a defensive rebound from Harrison, Turner scored a two on the drive, with the score 9-12 at this stage.
However, a few mistakes started to creep in as Loughborough began to negotiate the full-court press with increasing success. A timeout was called by Coach Emery and Rockets remained in touch for the rest of the quarter.
After a good steal from Seyedagha-Calderon, Seixas found space to add two.
Ellie Pierpoint was fouled and made one from the line, before she made a steal and assisted Turner for a long-range three.
By the end of the first quarter, our visitors led by eight points, with the score 15-23, although Rockets were certainly within touch and knew they could play better.
Unfortunately, the start of the second quarter saw Loughborough stretch out to a sixteen-point lead with an 8-0 run within the next two minutes, which left Rockets with a mountain to climb.
At this point, Birmingham were boosted by the arrival of Preccila Ocrah, who added a physical presence under the basket.
Turner was Rockets’ biggest threat and drained another three-pointer assisted by Seixas, who then went on to score a three-pointer of her own.
However, Birmingham were becoming reliant on outside shots due to strong defence from Loughborough.
Turner eventually netted another from outside, but Riders continued to maintain a comfortable lead.
Heather Maxwell was fouled on the drive and made two from the line to end the half and head into the break 14 points down, 28-42.
Rockets came out fired up in the second half, determined to give a better account of themselves and they played their best basketball during the third quarter.
Harrison scored the first points of the half under the basket, brilliantly assisted by Turner.
After a good steal from Seyedagha-Calderon, Harrison quickly scored again, cutting Riders’ lead down to ten points and the crowd were right behind the hosts.
With further points from Turner and Seixas, Rockets were still within touching distance, although each time the lead was cut to ten points, Loughborough seemed to find another gear and deal killer blows on offence.
Seyedagha-Calderon and Brownell kept the scoreboard ticking over before a good steal from Pierpoint led to another Brownell two-pointer.
Despite a much more competitive quarter, Rockets’ foul trouble in the final couple of minutes allowed Riders to extend their lead again, with the scores set at 42-58 by the end of the third.
It was a much better contest in the second half, with Birmingham matching Loughborough’s speed and aggression.
However, emotions began to spill over with the home team frustrated with the situation. This led to the final quarter starting with the first of two technical fouls awarded to Riders, which did not help our cause.
During the final quarter, Loughborough extended their lead to as many as 24-points at one stage, before a burst from Rockets in the last few minutes brought some more respectability to the scoreline.
On offence, Seixas added a three and Harrison two from in the paint, both assisted by Turner. Pashaj was fouled attacking the basket then made two free-throws and Mullgrave showed good energy coming off the bench, netting a long-range two.
In the closing stages Katy Adamson scored her first points and Maru Biblioni scored two from the floor and several points from the free-throw line too, ensuring that Rockets kept their energy until the end, looking to attack the basket at every opportunity.
Unfortunately, Rockets were beaten on the day, but the team can take heart from spells of quality throughout the game which, when subsidised with more consistency, will surely lead to an upturn in fortunes as the season progresses.
Turner led Rockets with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Another positive is that Rockets had eleven different scorers on the night, highlighting the depth and utility of the squad.
Rockets will look to bounce back on Saturday as they travel to Thames Valley Cavaliers, before returning to Nechells on Sunday for National Cup action – come along and show your support!
Match report by Jess Ellicott