Caledonia Gladiators travelled to the North West to take on Cheshire Phoenix in a Trophy Final rematch, and the first leg of the BBL Playoff Quarter Finals.
Heading into the game, both sides were hurting for injury, with a low player count for the hosts and visitors. Phoenix would be looking to avenge their loss in the final, while Gladiators would hope to start off the playoffs in style.
To begin the outing, after the visitors won tip-off, the action started end-to-end, with the teams trading baskets like-for-like, as expected. However it was Gladiators who took the first real advantage, thanks to an unreal off-the-backboard self-alley oop dunk from Jeremiah Bailey which brought the bench to their feet, bringing high-energy alongside it. Cheshire made their first proper push towards the end of the first period, ending the action up seven points, 28-21.
Gladiators already had a disadvantage to fight against, which was proving to be difficult with the loud home crowd, fuelled on by vuvuzelas and loud responses throughout the fixture. Momentum changed hands often, with Phoenix missing a lot of free throws thanks to Gladiators’ travelling fans’ distractions. Throughout the second period, the game remained within a few points, but the hosts took the 5-point lead heading into the locker rooms, 53-48.
Following the break, Phoenix struggled to get off the mark while Gladiators made a couple of key buckets to keep themselves in the game, tying it with a minute played in the second half. Backed by their fans, Cheshire continued to push, expanding their lead to as much as 13 halfway through the period. The teams traded buckets following that, and Phoenix went into the all-important final quarter up seven, 73-66, still having to play ten minutes at home, and forty minutes in Glasgow tomorrow afternoon.
With ten minutes to play, the Gladiators had no other option than to push Phoenix to get in the best possible position moving into the home second leg. Despite all their efforts, and a few solid plays on offence and defence, Gladiators struggled to match the energy and intensity of Phoenix, who forced several timeouts in the final quarter as both sides were scrambling for points to give them the huge advantage heading into the second of two fixtures.
Phoenix ended the game with a happy home crowd and a 16-point advantage to take up the road to Scotland, winning the first quarter final leg 102-86 upon the final buzzer.
Despite the tough loss, Jeremiah Bailey repeated his Trophy Final antics, picking up the team MVP for Gladiators thanks to a 17 point, 11 rebound and three assist outing.
Tomorrow, Gladiators welcome Cardiff Met Archers (TICKETS) and Cheshire Phoenix (TICKETS), in a WBBL & BBL double-header Saturday special. The BBL side will be looking to resolve their deficit from tonight, will the WBBL squad will want to get a solid victory in the one-off fixture.