Dame Elizabeth Cadbury Sports Hall – Sunday 16 November

Have you ever heard of one of those Indian weddings that run over about three days? Copious amounts of food and replenishment in preparation, an event on Saturday, party atmosphere on Saturday evening. Then some sore heads on Sunday morning suffering from the night before and having to wake up early again, but being carried through by a mixture of nerves and adrenaline leading up to the main event? Well compared to the weekend of 15-16 November at City of Birmingham basketball, all that’s like a small gathering down the Red Lion with a tray of curly sandwiches.

I arrived at the Dame Elizabeth sports hall on Sunday morning having ensured that my son had had a good fill the night before (after leaving the party atmosphere of the seniors win against Sheffield) – just as I had on Friday night, ready for the first of the guys’ two weekend matches. Like a couple of the other dads who had arrived early, the thought of a power nap in the car sounded appealing. But having struggled through the foyer full of Derby players and supporters, resembling the groom and all of his extended family, I thought better of it.

The ceremony, an hour away, was the meeting of the only two unbeaten sides in the league, so the magnitude of today’s match could not be underestimated. If the team had any intentions of winning the league, this match would be the best marker to date to judge whether it was a realistic expectation, or just a dream. So some apprehension was to be expected. Maybe this was what it feels like to be the father of the bride.

Coach Lacey however had declared to his troops that he was more than confident of a good victory. I was in doubt as to whether this was just a pep-talk to build some confidence, or whether it might actually be the case. So as the crowd gathered, and the teams strode towards each other in unison as part of their stretching routines, as if they were about to challenge each other with their own renditions of the haka, tip-off approached and the tension built.

Once the referee blew, CoB got off to a nervy start, finding themselves 10-6 down at 4 minutes. (C’mon, let’s get this started, I thought). Patterson kept us in it with a couple of scores, Faure-Lewis found some consistency despite getting a ball in the stomach, and Lacey Jr pulled off a rally of points to put us 17-13 ahead. Game on.

Critically, Ashford overcame a nervy start to get a rebound, an assist, and two baskets. After a couple of misses, Gill became the sixth COB scorer in the period (good job too, because granny had come to watch), for CoB to surprisingly end the opening period 25-17 up, after the whole team raised their defensive game towards the end of the quarter.

In contrast it did seem that the opposition were becoming reliant on a couple of players; the captain, number 9 Matimba, and number 11 Bowman.

Ashford took the game to Derby be in the 2nd period with 3 assists, and a 3-pointer included in 3 baskets which left Derby trailing by 14 points five minutes into this quarter. Carrying on the incessant defensive work, CoB were suddenly on the up and could even afford to make a few minor errors. Gills defensive efforts took him to 3 personal fouls but Patterson kept the scoreboard ticking over, the quarter finishing with CoB 16 points ahead, 48-32.

But in case anyone thought this match was over, the third quarter provided reassurance that it definitely was not. Mistakes started creeping in; fouls, missed shots, then an air shot – the lead remained but was being gradually eaten into, the usual culprits for the away team getting them back to within 9 points at one stage.

Ashford arrested a period of Derby dominance by driving full court to score, and late additions to their earlier scores by Faure-Lewis and Lacey kept the deficit for the quarter to 3 points in Derby’s favour. CoB were still in control, but that finishing line now looking further away than it had at half time.

If not a big final quarter, a solid one was required for this match and also, even at this early stage, in the context of the whole season. Time for wedding references was over, even with the Derby subs singing “Blazers, Blazers”. This was an unbeaten Derby team. – an onslaught was expected. The coach had done his part and the troops were sent out, prepared for a long final quarter.

Faure-Lewis assisted Wallace-Steele, Derby’s number 11 replied, a blow for a blow. More was expected as a large crowd had gathered, the under 14s having arrived for their match and providing a deafening backdrop. (Well, sort of). Could we convert our next attack to keep it ticking over?

Wallace-Steele got blocked, so no, but made a heroic recovery as he picked up the defensive rebound – could we go again and make it count this time?

Not half.

Ashford, 3 pointer – ice cool! Derby’s number 6 – air shot! Ashford, go go go! Back to Faure-Lewis – 3 pointer!!  Delirium! Lacey stuck a cheeky one in from close, and suddenly it was 76-55!

This was Derby, the mighty Derby. CoB’s defence had pressured them time and again into conceding, and their heads had gone, missing numerous chances as well as half of their remaining free throws.  CoB’s Faure-Lewis, Patterson and the irrepressible Lacey rammed home the advantage, and a final score from Rupra completed a famous 96-68 win.

Breath-taken, enthralled, amazed and immensely proud, we had witnessed a class performance . Aside from proving coach Lacey’s analysis and training to be equally top-drawer, this will have given the players, and the rest of the league, the belief that on their day it is CoB who are the team to beat.

Be it the boys at an Indian wedding or the boys at COB under 13’s – they’re gonna fight.

(Scorers: Lacey 24, Faure-Lewis 14, Ashford 14, Patterson 12, Wallace-Steele 10, Gaynor 6, Moorman 2, Gill 2, Rupra 2)