Updated: Dec 17, 2019
In the final weekend of 2019, and indeed the decade for the Ipswich Basketball Club Senior Women, it was a weekend of mixed emotions as the team faced off against Reading Rockets on Saturday and Sunday, first in National League Division One and the following day in the quarter final of the National Cup.
Ipswich have spent much of the first half of the season trying to play down what has been something of a freak chain of events with regard to injuries. Esther Little has missed eleven games, Phoebe Colton ten, Cameron Taylor-Willis two, Becky Harwood-Bellis three and Susannah Rafiu one as the team has not managed to field more than eight healthy players in any game, yet somehow the team found themselves in the top two in the league and in the national cup quarter final. On Saturday, facing the Rockets, Ipswich were still without Little, Harwood-Bellis, Colton and now Rafiu, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in Wednesday’s academy game, meaning the team would play with just six players.
In what turned out to be the game of the season, Ipswich found themselves down by nineteen points in the second quarter, and with their depleted roster, things were looking bleak. However, a monumental second half comeback saw Ipswich fight their way back. A barrage of three-pointers, led by Ella Pearson and Harriet Welham saw the hosts peg back the visitors. With the lead down to just five going into the final quarter, Ipswich again rallied, thwarting any attempt from Reading to extend their lead with some stifling defence, while continuing their offensive onslaught.
Key plays from Coco Leung, Danni Cazey and Cameron Taylor-Willis gave Ipswich a two point advantage with fourteen seconds to play. After a Rockets time-out, the visitors managed to get open for a driving lay-up, to tie the game at 89-89 with eight seconds to play. However, Ipswich had one more time-out to use and there was only every going to be one place that Coach Drane was going to put the ball. Cameron Taylor-Willis was able to get Harriet Welham open, and the league’s leading scorer had the ball as the clock ran down. Welham’s driving lay-up drew a foul, meaning the Ipswich guard went to the line with two seconds on the clock with a chance to win the game. Welham sank one of two from the line, the seal the win and in doing so completing one of the great team and individual performances the Ipswich crowd have ever been treated to.
Coco Leung had a season high twenty-six to go with nine rebounds, while the emerging Ella Pearson added sixteen. Welham, through sheer force of will, and a phenomenal level of skill and leadership would score a season high 40 points to go with sixteen rebounds, including the game winning basket as Ipswich moved to 7-2 in league play, good for second in the league as 2019 draws to a close.
On Sunday Ipswich aimed to make it two from two, while the Rockets were after some revenge. Before the game Ipswich were dealt another massive blow with the news that starting forward and the teams second leading scorer, Cameron Taylor-Willis, would miss the game due to illness. With Taylor-Willis unavailable the team was down to five available senior players. Esther Little would play, but in a limited role, as would Phoebe Colton, who would also bring forward her return to play date to help the team. Junior player Lauren Liddamore was also called up, to give Ipswich eight players on the bench. The Rockets were also battered and bruised from the previous day, but even the visitors would have to admit that the Ipswich list of casualties was now getting out of hand.
The Rockets, play a breath taking, free flowing, fast paced brand of basketball, and they built themselves a thirteen point lead early in the game. However, Ipswich somehow summoned the willpower to mount another come back, fighting back to within three points by half time. Charlotte Redhead, Harriet Welham and Coco Leung were leading the charge, and while Little was playing a reserve role, the GB international’s presence alone gave the Ipswich team and crowd a lift.
However, with Reading flying out of the blocks in the third and quickly building a double digit-lead, before Ipswich were able to mount another comeback, yet another injury was suffered, this time to Coco Leung, who’s pulled her hamstring. Ipswich would play the remainder of the game with Colton and eventually Liddamore in the game. Reading would go on to win the game by a large margin (81-52), and deservedly so – the resilience shown by the Rockets was impressive.
But the packed Copleston gymnasium, who did not stop cheering for their Suffolk side for the full forty minutes, had to have felt some level of sadness, witnessing what had happened to their team, as they crashed out of the National Cup.
Somehow, Welham was still the games high scorer with 25 points to go with 13 rebounds, in another inspiring effort. However, it was one game too many for Ipswich, who should still hold their heads high despite their exit from the National Cup.
“Saturday was an absolutely epic effort by the team, that’s up there with our best ever performances, given the circumstances. The mental and physical toughness the girls showed was something that I am so proud of. Sunday, we gave it our all but it was just one game too many for us. I’m not going to make any excuses, Reading were outstanding. We have to look at the positive’s, we have several outstanding players that will be coming back after the Christmas break either well rested, or chomping at the bit to get their season started.”