The McDonald’s Nottingham Hoods defied all the odds and will be playing Div3 basketball next season thanks to a hard-fought 58-60 away win at local rivals Derby Trailblazers.
After Tees Valley had won the night before, the situation was clear – win or be relegated. It was a tough and physical battle throughout between two teams, who are used to fighting for play-off spots, finding themselves fighting for survival at the bottom of the league, but it was the McDonald’s Hoods who kept their composure and take the victory, securing their survival.
The game did not start well for the McDonald’s Hoods as a clearly fired up Derby took to the floor all guns blazing, hitting back-to-back threes as the Hoods were nervously missing lay-ups and open shots. At 8-0 after the first 4 minutes, Coach Waghorn had no choice but to call a time-out. It worked as the Hoods went on an 8-0 run for themselves through Dargis, Wong and Stanley as they found a bit of form and composure. At the end of a tight first quarter, Derby led 16-14.
The second was more of the same as both teams went on mini-runs, with Derby just keeping their noses ahead as they continued to hit some big threes, which the McDonald’s Hoods had no answer to. The ball was being moved well on offence as a more patient McDonald’s Hoods team waited for the open man before feeding him for the easy score. Dargis and Wong were hitting everything, but they still trailed at the break 30-26.
The third quarter was a great one for the McDonald’s Hoods that saw the defensive intensity increase with big blocks from Davis, Dargis and Wong, as well as steals from Stanley and Apostolidis as the whole team seemed to step up a gear. Stanley, Siczek and Apostolidis then started hitting their threes and the McDonald’s Hoods took the lead for the first time in the game as they went into the final break up 40-43.
In front of a fiery home crowd, the Hoods pressed on with great ball movement feeding the big men of Dargis and Poynton for some well taken baskets as the travelling supporters started to find their voices sensing that there was a huge opportunity here. Once again though, Derby hit back-to-back threes to tie the game up with 3 minutes to go. The guards of Wong, Fernandez, Stanley and captain Apostolidis came out of the time out pumped and were throwing themselves all round the court, hustling for each and every possession as fatigue started to set in on both sides. Captain Apostolidis stole three possessions in a row, the final one seeing him crash into the side wall to save a ball, which got his team fired up as they led by 2 with just over a minute to play. Disaster then struck again as Derby hit a pair of clutch 3’s on the buzzer to take a three-point lead and force a time-out for Coach Waghorn. As he has done throughout his career, he drew up the perfect play and great ball movement and a huge screen from Apostolidis found Stanley wide open and he nailed the three to tie the game with 30 seconds left. Another steal by Apostolidis and a pin-point pass to Wong saw him finish the lay-up and the Hoods had the lead with 4 seconds to go. Derby had an opportunity and the way they had shot the three it was a nervous final play, but the McDonald’s Hoods kept up the defensive pressure as a Derby three hit the front of the rim and was collected by safe Hoods hands as the final buzzer sounded. The visiting supporters leapt out of their seats amid scenes of wild jubilation on the court as the players piled on top of each other, knowing they deserved the win and what it means for the club.
Top Scorers on the day were Stanley 15; Dargis 12; Wong 12 but the plaudits must go to the whole team on a great performance and especially Apostolidis who led from the front and had a real captain’s game in the win.
GM Lee English commented, “I am so pleased for the guys, they deserved this today. It has been a really tough season and they certainly haven’t deserved to be fighting at this end of the table, but sport is like that sometimes and you need a bit of luck. I am so proud of the way they have reacted. I remember sitting down with them 4 weeks ago after we lost at home to fellow strugglers Tees Valley saying we had 3 games left and we needed to win all 3, it wasn’t a conversation I was looking forward to, but fair play to the guys, they have been a different team since then and wanted it for themselves, each other and, more importantly, for the Hoods. I wish I had the conversation earlier in the season! I need to take the opportunity to thank all our sponsors and fans for sticking with us this year – this win is for them.”
2 times MVP and Club Captain Bruce Lauder, who retired last season, was watching in the crowd and said, “You just knew we wanted it more, especially down the stretch. I thought Toli (Apostolidis) controlled the guys and the game very well and I was really proud to see them go and get it. It is shame that Derby and Nottingham have found themselves scrapping at the wrong end of the table this year, both teams are too good to be there and don’t deserve to finish bottom. That said, I am glad it wasn’t us! This is a great way to finish the season and sets us up well for next year. It was always going to be a re-building year and we survived. We have a lot of things going on over the summer and hopefully some really exciting announcements to come over the next few months so watch this space.”