The start of a monumental weekend for Southend Swifts saw their under 14 girls make a very early trip to play Northants Lightning. This would be a crucial game with Southend protecting their unbeaten record whilst sitting in 2nd place in the league table, with Northants in 3rd. Swifts were below full strength, missing guards Summer Osbourne, Charlotte Ellmore and Alicia Medina-Smith.
The home side made a strong start, opening a 10-4 lead after six minutes. But the introduction of Sasha Cornell and Kacey Realf brought quick rewards. Realf with an offensive rebounds and Cornell with six points, interspersed with two Amber Evans baskets, and there was a 13-0 run and a 17-10 lead. Lightning scored four of the last six points scored to trail 19-14 at the end of the opening period.
Again Northants came out stronger, scoring 7 unanswered before Evans made a three-point shot. When she repeated the feat and Zoe Willis scored from close range, Swifts had re-taken the lead at 27-26. The scoring ebbed and flowed but from 34 all, the hosts had the final two baskets to lead 38-34 at the half time interval.
When Northants had the first four points, the margin was eight and a home victory very much on the cards. But two further three-pointers from Evans, and another lay-up from the same player tied the game up at 42 and the excitement building. Lighting again moved out to six, as Southend failed to score for three minutes before the teams shared the final six points that left the home side 54-48 ahead with the final 10 minutes to play.
This time it would be Swifts quicker on the draw. Three points from Cornell and a score from the tireless Southend captain Emily Gaskin reduced the deficit to three. Northants managed a foul shot but scores from Willis and Evans and a pair of Gaskin foul shots got Southend 59-57 ahead. Lightning had the next score but baskets from Evans and Gaskin took the margin to four, with two minutes to play. The lead was halved but an old fashioned three-point play from Evans and a Willis foul shot made the gap six going into the final minute. Lightning managed the final score, but they could get no closer as Swifts recorded an outstanding 67-63 victory to preserve their unbeaten record. Evans with a career high 30 points, with four three-pointers, Willis 15 and Cornell 12 leading the scoring.
GIRLS UNDER 14 NATIONAL LEAGUE – MIDLAND SOUTH DIVISION
HARINGEY ANGELS 62 SOUTHEND SWIFTS 57
So after the rigours of playing the team in 3rd place in their division, Southend Swifts under 14 girls had the hardest task in their weekend double header; a visit to league leaders and perennial champions Haringey Angels. Southend had recorded a very tough six point win when the teams met earlier in the season and knew they would need to be at their best to get a similar result.
Southend made a good start as Amber Evans and Rhian Simpson scored from close in as their team led 7-4. Haringey hit back with a 10-2 run to lead by five before four points from the rapidly improving Kacey Realf reduced the margin to one. Angels hit back with the final four points to lead 18-13 at the first interval.
Baskets from Charlotte Ellmore and Sasha Cornell again reduced the margin to one but the hosts came to the fore and some excellent foul shooting got them 26-18 ahead. Swifts were struggling to get offensive movement and with Angels fast break getting them some easy baskets, it was 36-22 at half time.
But the team talk seemed to have the desired effect. Baskets from Emily Gaskin, Zoe Willis and four from Cornell made it 36-30. Haringey recovered with a 6-2 run, to take the lead back to 10, but scores from Willis and Evans again got the deficit back to six. Angels again got back to 10 but points from Gaskin, Willis and Evans meant it was 48-43 going into the final quarter.
After three minutes it was still five at 52-47 before the London side made the definitive move. An 8-0 run over five minutes took them 60-47 ahead. Willis replied with four but Angels scored again and with two minutes to play it was 62-51. Swifts took advantage of a time out and the team given some interesting information. If they could reduce the deficit below six points, that would give them the head-to-head over Haringey on points difference. Willis scored from a fast break and a Cornell steal made the margin seven. Both teams turned the ball over and with five seconds to play Gaskin took a rebound. She looked down the floor to see Willis running and a pinpoint pass got her to the basket. The shot was released and dropped through as the final buzzer sounded. A remarkable recovery but all of the remaining games would need to be won before any celebrations start.
Willis with 19 points, Cornell 12 and Gaskin 9 led the scoring.