Upset kings Hemel Storm make playoff final

AJ Roberts sank four three-pointers against Reading on Saturday. (Picture by Lin Titmuss)
AJ Roberts sank four three-pointers against Reading on Saturday. (Picture by Lin Titmuss)

Hemel Storm are headed to their second national final of an historic season after a magnificent performance and 98 -75 victory over Reading Rockets.

A week after their upset win over No 2 seeds Solent Kestrels, Storm triumphed in the semi-final of the National League Division One Championship playoffs at Hemel Hempstead Leisure Centre on Saturday when taking down the No 3 seed Rockets.

After winning the National Trophy cup final in January, Hemel now have a chance to enjoy a double-winning season. The cup victory was the club’s first silverware for six years.

In a competitive and hard-played clash, Reading’s American centre Tim Gill was ejected from the game half-way through the third period following an unprovoked incident under the Hemel basket.

Storm burst into a 64-49 lead on the back of a Mike Darlow three-pointer and a series of lock-down defensive possessions when Reading were denied any easy scoring opportunities by Hemel’s impressive pressure defence.

“That third-quarter was decisive,” said Hemel head coach Robert Youngblood. “We already had a ten-point lead at half-time and Reading were chasing the game.

“We were executing really well on offence and our scoring was coming from everyone on court, we weren’t reliant on one or two guys having a big game.

“But even though we were scoring at a consistent rate it was our defensive pressure that made it hard for them to get any offensive rhythm.

“We’d worked in practice during the week on stopping Reading’s fast-break game and then neutralising them in the half court.

“They had zero fast-break points. It was a great team performance from our guys.”

Speaking about the final, Youngblood added: “We’ve beaten a higher seed in the quarter-finals, we’ve beaten a higher seed in the semi-finals and now we have an opportunity to beat a higher-seeded team [Worthing] again in the final.

“We defeated a very good Reading team that were on an impressive winning run, we’ll enjoy this now but then get down to work over the next two weeks and prepare to face Worthing. We want to bring some more silverware back to the town.”

See tomorrow’s Gazette for the full match report.