Hemel Storm earn final-four spot in the playoffs after upset win on the road

AJ Roberts, Hemel Storm's top scorer on the night, drives between two Solent defenders. (Picture: Lin Titmuss)
AJ Roberts, Hemel Storm's top scorer on the night, drives between two Solent defenders. (Picture: Lin Titmuss)

Hemel Storm overturned the form book to advance to the final four of the end-of-season playoffs after an upset away win against the No 2 seeds.

Storm were the underdogs on Sunday, the No 7 seeds travelling south to take on Solent Kestrels, who finished as runners-up in the NBL Division One and had lost only four times in the regular season.

Kestrels had lost only once on their home court in the 2017/18 league campaign and went 15-2 at the St Mary’s Sports Centre in Southampton in all competitions.

The hosts ended their season on an 11-1 run, the only loss coming on the road at Reading in a tight fixture.

Storm, on the other hand, had rather limped into the post-season, finishing their campaign in underwhelming fashion, including seven losses in their last 11 outings.

What’s more, Solent had beaten Storm by 14 points, 87-101, just 15 days ago in Hemel’s building.

But National Cup champions Storm were in no mood to be daunted and came out on top by 10 points, 82-72, on Sunday.

It was a close contest throughout the first three periods with neither side gaining a decisive advantage.

But a pivotal final quarter saw Hemel outscore Solent 24-17 to take a famous win.

As the final buzzer sounded, Storm’s supporters rushed onto the court to celebrate a hard-earned but well-deserved victory.

Hemel coach Robert Youngblood said: “We just didn’t like the way we’d lost to them at home a couple of weeks ago in the league.

“They played harder than us that night and that’s just not acceptable at our club, especially in front of our own great fans, so although we did prepare well and make some crucial technical adjustments for the game, I think we were just mentally and physically tougher than the last time we played them.

“Our team attitude was fantastic.”

Hemel will now face the No 3 seeds Reading Rockets in the semi-final this Saturday at Sportspace in Hemel (7pm tip-off). Storm’s fans will no doubt provide their usual cacophony to lift their players.

Reading beat Bradford Dragons 89-78 on Sunday.

It’s evenly-poised as the season series between Reading and Hemel ended 1-1. Storm lost by a single point, 94-95, in Wokingham in October, but avenged that with a 88-81 win in Hemel in January.

n See p52 for the Solent match report.