Rockets women overcame a spirited Derby side to progress into the last 16 of the National Cup on Sunday evening at Nechells Wellbeing Centre.
The scoreline could have been more comfortable, but Rockets built a lead from early on and led throughout, with the outcome never really in jeopardy.
It was a welcome, morale-boosting first competitive win of the season following a tough opening league loss, then a postponement last weekend.
Rockets’ squad has been bolstered with two further recent signings, both making their competitive debuts against the Trailblazers.
Maru Bibiloni is an exciting player with international experience, having previously played in Argentina, Spain and Scotland.
Derby provided familiar National Cup opponents, as Coach Emery’s side beat them on three separate occasions last season, including once in this same competition.
He used his full squad of during the game, with all players contributing to the team’s entertaining, high intensity style of play based upon aggressive defence and quick ball movement.
Rockets started with Michelle Turner, Nuri Seyedagha-Calderon, Enkelda Pashaj, Milly Harrison and Grace Brownell in the point guard position.
Birmingham secured possession from the tip-off and despite conceding the first basket of the game, the team quickly bounced back into their usual rhythm.
Brownell scored our first points, then assisted Harrison for two, following a great steal by Seyedagha-Calderon.
Having deployed the full-court press in previous games, Coach Emery soon reverted to this tactic and Derby struggled to cope with the pressure.
Pashaj made a good block, Seyedagha-Calderon continued to force turnovers, and Harrison was excellent in the post, scoring several baskets.
This forced an early Trailblazers timeout, with the score 10-7 to the home team.
The timeout did little to stem the flow. Rockets moved the ball well in attack and started to build a healthy lead. One of the plays of the game saw Turner feed Harrison with a no-look bounce pass for a lay-up and three-point play, as she was fouled on the shot.
By the end of the quarter, Rockets had established a double sigit advantage with the scores set at 19-9.
Sarah Mulgrave came into the game at the start of the second quarter and quickly made her presence known with two points on the drive.
Bibiloni was everywhere in defence on her Rockets debut, forcing multiple turnovers through steals, interceptions and blocks.
Precilla Ocrah then went to work in the post for two, stemming an attempted Derby fightback as Rockets headed into a timeout with the score 23-14.
As half time approached, the game became scrappy with the pace of the contest inevitably slowing a little.
Rockets switched to zone defence and despite Derby taking more open shots, the lead was maintained thanks to further points by Harrison and a big Danie Wallis 3-pointer.
At the half, Rockets led 32-21.
The start of the third quarter was more frantic, with rushed decisions leading to mistakes from both teams. Maxwell, Harrison and Seyedagha-Calderon dominated under the basket on the defensive end, with multiple blocks and rebounds preventing Derby from closing the gap.
Turner eventually settled things down on offence with two free-throws before Seyedagha-Calderon then added two after another energetic defensive play by Bibiloni, the latter then scored two points of her own to take the score out to 38-21.
This was as big as the lead became, however, as Derby staged a fightback at the end of the quarter. It took a trademark 3-pointer from Turner to swing the momentum back towards the Rockets in the dying seconds to close out the third, 43-34 Rockets.
Much like the third, the fourth quarter began with good defence but very few points for either side. That was until Turner and Brownell combined brilliantly on two occasions, with each of them assisting the other for two points. This took the lead out to 14 points and effectively ended the contest with time running out.
However, Derby never gave up and kept fighting to reduce the defecit, with Brownell and Seyedagha-Calderon scoring the final five points of the game between them to end the contest 56-46.
Rockets can look forward to playing in the next round of the National Cup, with all players having benefited from valuable minutes on court.
Harrison led the scoring with 16 points, Seyedagha-Calderon also reached double-figures and was outstanding under the basket.
Bibiloni impressed with her boundless energy, and Turner and Brownell displayed fantastic vision on offence, earning themselves several assists.
Next up, the ladies are back in WNBL Division 1 action away against Barking Abbey on Saturday 21st October, before returning to home to Nechells on 28th against Loughborough Riders.
Limited tickets remain for that game, with the Royal Navy joining us for what is set to be a fantastic evening of entertainment and basketball with both out men’s and women’s teams in action – click here to get your tickets now!
Match Report by Jess Ellicott