City of Birmingham Rockets Women secured an impressive National Cup win in the round of 16, beating Manchester Mystics and avenging their league loss from just a few weeks ago.
Both teams welcomed the opportunity to play a second fixture of the weekend after suffering league defeats on Saturday.
After a tight and low-scoring first half, it was a dominant third quarter from the home team which determined the outcome of the contest.
Rockets drained 30 points in the quarter, ending it with a 19-4 run to open up an unassailable 20-point lead.
Despite the Mystics best efforts, Coach Emery’s side maintained a double-digit lead to close out the game and advance to the quarter-finals.
Birmingham started with Michelle Turner, Sarah Mullgrave, Catarina Seixas, Milly Harrison and Grace Brownell.
After securing possession from the tip-off, the team got to work; playing the faced-paced offence and full-court press defence we’re now used to, right from the off.
Turner got Rockets up and running with a trademark three-pointer.
Maru Biblioni was then brought into the game early on and gained three steals in quick succession through high-energy defence – twice assisting Seyedagha-Calderon for two, before laying in for two points of her own.
Club captain Enkelda Pashaj also came onto the court early and immediately hit a jump shot. In limited minutes, Pashaj made a big impact, posting stats of 6 points, 3 assists, 5 rebounds and a steal.
This basket led to an immediate Manchester timeout, with Coach Emery’s team on an 8-0 run, making the score 11-5.
Heather Maxwell was another high-impact player coming off the bench. She made a brilliant block, then rebounded the next shot and set Pashaj on her way for two on the fast break.
However, Manchester then fought back at the end of the first, going on an 8-0 run of their own to leave the scores level at 13 apiece. The visitors then added the next six points to start the next quarter as well, leading to a Rockets timeout.
Importantly, Birmingham stemmed the flow and scored the next points through Seyedagha-Calderon, assisted by Turner. Maxwell continued to make her presence felt at both ends of the court and her persistence led to another Seyedagha-Calderon two.
Rockets’ next possession saw great ball movement, leading to an open three assisted by Seixas and made by Turner. Turner then turned provider, with quick-hands creating a steal and she assisted Danie Wallis for a three-pointer of her own, tying the game at 23-23.
With the clock running down, Maxwell scored two under the basket, expertly assisted by Turner with a no-look pass. Pashaj then earned another steal and set up Turner for three to end the half 28-25 to Birmingham.
Rockets started the second half with renewed energy. They reverted to a zone defence, which was effective in stopping the frequent Manchester drives. On offence, they showed real clarity, drawing defenders and finding the open player with ease.
Mullgrave set the tone with two from under the basket, assisted by Millie Harrison.
Seixas then came to life, netting jump shots with ease. She hit a two pointer before finding her favourite spot outside the arc and hitting an impressive four 3-pointers in a row, not even touching the rim! Turner was a regular provider, on the way to six assists in total.
Mullgrave made a steal and set Harrison on her way for a fast-break two, leading to a Mystics timeout with Rockets up 37-31. However, this did little to change the momentum, which was well and truly with the home side.
Mullgrave gained another steal and superbly cut through the heart of the Manchester defence to lay-in for two. She then kicked the ball out to Wallis for three in the next attack.
In amongst further Seixas three-pointers, Pashaj took a charge to regain possession and Rockets caused a Mystics shot-clock violation with excellent guarding. Seyedagha-Calderon was having a real impact at both ends, being a real physical presence.
All Manchester could do was foul, sending her to the line to make two.
Rockets were on another 8-0 run at this point, taking the score to 53-36 and causing a further Mystics timeout.
Immediately after the breather, Biblioni was too quick for the opponent on defence, stealing the ball and setting up Seixas for the last of her three-point shots. Seixas made a team-high 17 points, including 14 in the third quarter alone.
Precilla Ocrah rounded off the scoring for the quarter, taking the lead out to twenty points, 58-38. Manchester simply couldn’t handle the physicality and speed of the Rockets at both ends of the court.
The fourth quarter continued in a similar fashion with a Biblioni two on the fast break.
However, the pace then slowed from a Birmingham perspective with the game almost won. Credit to Mancester though, as they never gave up and went back to driving to the basket at every opportunity, slowly cutting into the lead.
It took a good steal from Brownell to set up Turner for two and put the game beyond doubt for good. Harrison then got the crowd going with an amazing rejection, leaping up to block the ball and sending the attacking player sprawling.
The Birmingham scoring was rounded off by Pashaj, Wallis and Brownell, putting the final touches into a fantastic and morale-boosting win, 68-57.
In addition to Seixas with 17 points, Turner had a great all-round game with 11 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals. Seyedagha-Calderon also made double-figures with ten points and Mullgrave had a big impact too with four points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals.
Finally, Birmingham once again had 11 different scorers, with each individual stepping up whenever they were asked to.
Match Report by Jess Ellicott