Report by Sam Scouller.
The Caledonia Gladiators have booked their tickets for the BBL Trophy Final after a hard-fought 83-65 win over NBL side, The Derby Trailblazers.
The Gladiators claimed the first points of the game as Jeremiah Bailey attempted a driven dunk but failed to deliver before Patrick Tapé charged in and smashed the rebound into the net. Trailblazers quickly turned around the scoring though as Malcolm Smith and Jonas Dieterich combined to produce a three-point advantage for Derby after just a few plays. Point guard, David Sloan rapidly re-energised the Gladiators with three straight three-pointers to restore Caledonia’s lead. Sloan and Smith continued to impress as they scored 11 and 10 points respectively in the first quarter alone as the teams went into the first break tied at 24.
Raheem May-Thomson got the Trailblazers off to a strong start in the second quarter as he sunk a long-range two pointer on their first attack. Ali Fraser responded instantly though with a driven layup to level the score before Kyle Jimenez claimed the lead with two free throws. Bailey showed some flair later in the quarter as he threw the ball behind his legs to set up Fraser for a layup to give Caledonia a six-point lead for the first time in the game. Derby kept it simple at the other end though as Dieterich sunk a three-point shot to halve the Gladiators’ lead. Sloan went on to deliver five points for the Gladiators in the second quarter to maintain the lead into the locker rooms as they ended the second ahead by 36-40.
Tapé got the third quarter off to an emphatic start as he slapped the ball out of Jase Harrison’s for a block before charging up the court and making the layup. The Ivory Coast international went on to score another straight after as he extended the Gladiators’ lead to eight points. Sloan and Jimenez were both crucial components in a strong surge by the Gladiators which saw them dictate the scoring cruise to a 14-point lead.
Their East-Midlands opponents then went onto score eight unanswered points, all through Malcolm Smith, before Prince Onwas bagged a much-needed layup to end the Blazers’ hot-streak. Sloan then went onto stun the crowd with a mesmerising weaving run through the Derby defence before dishing the ball to Ali Fraser for an unguarded layup.
Despite the scoreline, it was the Trailblazers’ Malcolm Smith who was centre of attention as he had broken the 30-point mark before the end of the third quarter. Smith closed out the quarter with a score to bring the Scots’ lead down to eight points with ten minutes remaining.
Both sides traded points at the start of the fourth quarter but Caledonia still gradually extended their lead. Sloan and Bunyan combined to put the visitors ahead by 18 points at the end of the game which solidified their place in the BBL Trophy Finals, coming out 83-65 victors. The result makes this Scottish side’s first appearance in any BBL final since 2019, when the Rocks at the time were led by Darryl Wood as head coach and Gareth Murray on the court.
Now, with a Final spot confirmed at the Emirates Arena on 26th March, your tickets for behind the Gladiators’ bench can be purchased HERE!