City of Birmingham Rockets Women’s First Team contested the WNBL Division 2 Playoff Final against Sheffield Hatters II at Manchester’s National Basketball Performance Centre on Saturday afternoon, as part of Finals weekend.
After a pool-topping regular season, followed by two thrilling playoff wins, Rockets deservedly took their place at this showpiece event.
With Coach Emery’s side having already realised their regular season ambitions, this was an opportunity to compete against a formidable team with an impressive history, in the form of Sheffield Hatters, in front of an energetic, capacity crowd.
A number of Rockets fans had made the journey north, bringing their voices (and a drum!) to help make the team feel at home.
Sarah Mullgrave settled the early nerves by draining an open three pointer to cut the deficit after Sheffield had stormed to an early 9-3 lead.
Coach Emery’s side upped their intensity and defended well to force a shot-clock violation, before Enkeleda Pashaj drew an offensive foul on Hatter’s next possession.
At the other end, Michelle Turner’s great vision led to Fabienne Zere visiting the foul line and Catarina Seixas hit a big three pointer to close the gap.
However, Rockets became more frantic as Hatters increased their aggression, leading to rushed shots and turnovers. Sheffield opened a 12-point lead, before another Mullgrave three pointer aided a slight comeback to end the quarter 22-14.
The second quarter began with aggressive Rockets defence leading to an offensive foul and Heather Maxwell then grabbed an offensive rebound, leading to a second-chance opportunity.
Turner managed a steal and a block, as well as hitting her first points of the game, assisted by Georgia Darby, to keep within touching distance.
Following a timeout from each side, Sheffield began to pull away, opening a 14-point lead.
Seixas scored on the fast break assisted by Pashaj to keep the crowd believing and Zere’s energy and offensive rebounding resulted in four points for her late in the quarter. Half time came with Rockets 42-25 down.
A run of contentious calls got Rockets into foul trouble early in the third quarter, with Mullgrave picking up her fourth personal – limiting her involvement for the remainder of the game.
Ellie Pierpoint hit a clean outside shot from the corner assisted by Seixas and Zere hit two free-throws, but the Hatters were in formidable form, opening a 57-30 advantage; with Sarah Cooney in inspired form on her way to a 36-point display for Sheffield.
From this point, Rockets found extra energy and took their game to another level. They went blow-for-blow with Sheffield and the Birmingham fans appreciated their efforts.
Seixas began to control the game – drawing fouls, assisting others and converting her own three-point play after a dominant drive.
Two Under 18s were promoted for the game, with Preccila Ocrah a real inside presence, scoring six in the quarter, with one expertly assisted by Danielle Wallis.
Both players will be heading back to Manchester with our Under 18s this weekend as part of Final Fours weekend – with both seamlessly adapting to the level and showcasing the fantastic pathway opportunities available to our juniors here at Rockets.
Regular season MVP Michelle Turner was very aggressively guarded throughout the game, but she wriggled free before a hard foul led to her making two free-throws. After a 9-0 Rockets run and a real momentum swing, the quarter ended 59-44.
Seixas hit another three to open the fourth quarter and Zere continued to battle under the basket, adding a further two points.
Despite some of the best basketball Rockets have played throughout the playoffs, they just couldn’t trim the lead to anything less than 15. Turner hit Birmingham’s final points of the game with a three-pointer from deep.
After some aggressive defence and a fantastic second half fight from Emery’s team, Sheffield ran down the clock to close out the game 77-57. The crowd certainly appreciated Birmingham’s efforts, as they clearly gave it their all and fought to the end.
It wasn’t to be on the day, but there were plenty of promising signs to take into next season.
Catarina Seixas led the team with 16 points, followed by Fabianne Zere with 13. Ocrah made a valuable contribution too, with eight points of her own.
There were seven different scorers and the whole squad contributed to a great game, showing their togetherness and team-spirit to the end.
Rockets collected their silver medals and Michelle Turner deservedly received her Player of the Year award after a dominant season in Pool Two.
The 2022/23 season has been a historic one for basketball in Birmingham, with our women’s team more than playing their part in putting the city back on the map.
With a table topping regular season and run to the playoff finals interspersed with a run to the National Cup semi-finals back in January, we would like to congratulate our players, coaches and support staff on a fantastic season.
Written by Jess Ellicott