Loughborough Student riders Women will face Newham NASSA Stars in the Division 2 National Final on April 14 after a 77-76 overtime victory over Manchester Mystics.
The students were looking to avenge the Trophy Final loss as they travelled to play Manchester Mystics in the National Play-off semi-final last weekend.
In the first half Manchester's hot shooting proved too much for the Student Riders as the Mystics' Jade Lucas finished the half with 18 points and the home side led by 10.
The second half of the game saw a different Loughborough team as they controlled the tempo of the game, feeding Maaja Bratka in the post for easy scores.
As the end of the game neared its conclusion Loughborough led by two before a defensive lapse allowed Nicky Blakeway to knock down an easy layup and take the game into overtime.
The overtime period saw much of the same from Loughborough with big plays from Bratka and Lucy Buxton giving the Student Riders the lead. Manchester's poor free prevented them coming back into the game, allowing Loughborough to hang on to win 77-76 and progress to the National Final.
Bratka finished the game with 27 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
Head Coach Matthew Harber described the loss of Maia Bratka, a major player for the Student Riders, ahead of the semi final: "It was a major blow for us last week in practice when Maia [Bratka] fractured her wrist; she has been such an instrumental part of our success this year.”
With Bratka missing, Harber emphasised the importance of having depth within the squad this year: “We knew going into the game we would only come away with a win if our whole team contributed and that somebody would step up and fill the role that Maia has had during the last few months.
“We certainly got that team performance, but it was Harriet [Ottewill-Soulsby] who stepped up when it really mattered.”
“I have to say how proud I am of Harriet, who came in and gave us such high quality minutes at both ends of the floor and offered us that spark we needed. At only 16 years old, she demonstrated an ability to compete at a very high level and is showing everyone just what she's about and that she has a big future in this game.”
“Maaja [Bratka], Lucy [Buxton] and Zainya [Reyes] all came ready to play today and offered us a number of ways in which to score the ball. It was very rewarding to see some of the players playing at their highest level at the time of year when it really counts."
"We've spoke all year about playing our best basketball come March/April and we certainly did that at times throughout the game; particularly during the second half.”
The team will now have a few days off ahead of their final practice sessions ahead of the National Two final against Newham and Harber is aware of how difficult beating the NASSA Stars will be:
“We know how hard we will have to work in order to win the title, but this team have been through a lot of highs and lows this year and I'm confident this will hold us in good stead for the final.”