Trinity School, Nottingham – Saturday 26th October

City of Birmingham (CoB) under 13s travelled again, to face Notts Nova who were lying third in the early league table.  CoB have played the fewest games of any club, having been affected by disbandments of other teams. But a win today would see CoB leapfrog their opponents into 3rd place.

The coaches were confident that CoB could continue their winning run and the form book suggested a similar result, Notts having lost to CoB’s opening victims Northants Titans, last weekend.  However that was by just 4 points, and Notts had shown that they were still a force with a stupendous 129-26 defeat of Northants Thunder in their season opener.  (For the record, that was the biggest winning margin in under 13’s Midland Division since Nova themselves lost to an all-conquering Sheffield Sharks side 127-6, some nine years ago).

Having turned up early and being unable to pull open the sports centre door, I told the family we’d have to wait until the hosts turned up and unlocked it.  The rest of the CoB cavalcade subsequently arrived and walked straight in.  Note to self: if door doesn’t pull open, try pushing it instead.

The Catholic School sports hall provided a balcony to view from as well as some impressive spectator seating.  However there were worrying signs in the warm up, with the floor seemingly being ‘over-grippy’ and the team’s usually razor sharp shooting being uncharacteristically absent.

But from the tip off it was clear that was merely a case of clearing out the cobwebs as CoB blew away the opposition from the very start, scoring the first 8 points without reply.  Building on some excellent defence, none more so than Ashford, CoB showed their full repertoire of skills.  Faure-Lewis sunk a 3-pointer, then saw a shot just miss for Bailey to put away yet another rebound.  This added to Bailey’s scores from a quick break, a steal, and a lay-up after a screen by Gill, who also registered a basket after intercepting, and an assist for one of Lacey’s 3 scores in the quarter.

Bailey was given a rest with the score at 6-23 in CoB’s favour, having registered 13 points, and was replaced by Rupra who helped himself to 2 points.  Patterson came on for his second showing but was immediately pulled off for hugging the side-line.  Coach Lacey reset the livewire to send him back on and score another 2 after leaving an opponent for dead.  Moorman then drew a foul and converted a free throw to become the seventh CoB player to register points in the period and stretch CoB’s advantage to 30-10 at the break, completing their best quarter of the season so far.

Coach Lacey could only remind the players that the match was not over as Bailey ensured that CoB started the second quarter in the same fashion, scoring three baskets in a breathless 45 seconds.  However the 10-39 scoreline induced a period of complacency with a series of misdirected shots and passes, and loss of possession in the early stages of offensive plays.  Bailey, in his efforts to reverse the tide, was penalised for a perhaps over-zealous challenge, and on another occasion stole the ball with one of the home players still attached to it.  This only resulted in incensing the home support, providing further fuel for the home team as they continued to find a new energy.

Notts were now looking more Supernova than the Vauxhall Nova of the first quarter, as they proceeded to score more regularly and CoB less so.  Another incident saw another Notts player pick up a knock as concerns about the condition of the surface mounted, raising worries as their initial squad of nine was now down to seven before the players recovered.

Faure-Lewis, not for the first time, found himself in a pile-on on top of the ball, an opposition player, or a combination of the two.  The number of falls players took, seemingly due to the court surface, was a worry.  Having arrived at the venue via Brian Clough Way that morning, whose mantra was that sport should be played on the ground, we were sure that even Ol’ Big Head would have cringed at the number of times that players ended up prostrate and closely acquainted with the sports hall floor.

However the disjointed nature of the second-quarter resulted in CoB still leading by eighteen at half time, 30-48 overall.

Coach Lacey re-gathered the players at half time and reiterated the tactics, which showed in the 3rd quarter as Bailey produced a superb hook-in from around the basket.  Ashford then upped the stakes, making a glorious reverse pass around his back to set up Bailey for another.  Lacey maintained his regular supply of points, as he did throughout the match, proving illusive to the Notts defence as the home team’s challenge started to fade.  With CoB leading 34-64 after the early torrent of baskets this period, the match was effectively over as a contest before the 4th quarter, and CoB’s lead could well have been stretched further had it not been for a number of misses from deep, and a free throw point needlessly conceded for encroachment.  Another injury, this time to Patterson, required a heroic rescue from a member of the away support to carry him off the court half way through the period, which ended with the scoreboard showing 43-70.

The final quarter was characterised by missed shots and passes, and fouls by both sides as the youngsters perhaps started to tire.  The exchanges for the period ended at 9-points apiece, Lacey taking over top-scoring duties for the quarter from Bailey.  The match ended 52-79, those two top scoring with 18 and 32 respectively (although I did lose 2 points in my totalling somewhere along the way!).

Overall this was a very positive result for the youngsters, a 3rd win from 3, and if they continue to keep concentration better, can goon to win matches even more convincingly.

Coach Lacey’s pre-match prediction that restricting Notts to 60 point would result in a victory proved correct.  My own pre-match prediction was 75-55 was pretty close, although the only witness is my conscience – I’ll consider running a book next time to raise some funds for the club.

So, next Saturday, the start of November sees the boys entertain Shropshire Warriors in a belated and much anticipated first home game.  (Northants Titans will in comparison be playing their fifth home game next weekend.)  Having waited so long, the manager will hope to see a bumper crowd for the U13’s season opener at Nechells, against a team who will be determined to pick up points after some tough opening fixtures.  We’ll see you there.