Hemel Storm cemented their place in the top eight National Championship playoffs with a convincing 116-93 win over Derby Trailblazers at Hemel’s Sportspace home on Sunday.
After losing at home the previous night to league runners-up Solent Kestrels, Hemel finished seventh in the National League Division 1 table and so will meet Solent again on their home court in Southampton in the first round of the knock-out playoffs on the weekend of April 7-8.
Storm have lost twice to Solent this season, a controversial 86-87 defeat away in January when a foul was called on Hemel’s AJ Roberts in the last second which sent the hosts to the free-throw line to seal the win, and a more emphatic 87–101 loss on Saturday.
If Hemel can come away from Southampton with a win they will have a home tie in the last-four.
On Saturday Storm let an early 17-8 lead slip in the first quarter and trailed 21-23 as the period ended. A 15-0 Solent run did the damage as Storm’s offence misfired and they struggled to contain the visitors’ American pairing of forward Joe Tagarelli (30 points, 15 rebounds) and guard Herman Senor II (18 points, 10 assists) who accounted for 19 of Solent’s first-quarter points between them.
Kestrels dominated the second period, seemingly scoring at will and crashing Storm’s boards to recover missed shots and earn second and even third shot attempts. The visitors steadily pulled away, holding Hemel to 19 points in the period while pouring in 35 themselves to take a 58-40 half-time lead.
“We just were not pursuing the ball or competing at a level we needed to,” said Storm’s coach Robert Youngblood. “They were playing harder than us and that’s not acceptable at our club and especially on our home court. It was very disappointing and there are no excuses.”
With a little over two minutes to go and Hemel trailing 55-80 they produced a 10-point run without reply as Tom Adorian, Lee Greenan and Jack Burnell combined to claw the deficit back to a more manageable 15 points and head into the fourth quarter 80-65 adrift.
The teams traded baskets in the final period before consecutive jump-shots from Hemel captain and top-scorer Bode Adeluola (19 points) closed the gap to 11 points at 82-93 but it wasn’t enough.
Youngblood said: “In the end we shot at a better percentage than they did but they got 21 more attempts by completely out-rebounding us, coming up with loose balls and turning us over 18 times.
“But we’ll re-group now, get our injuries and niggles sorted out and prepare for when we see them again in a couple of weeks in the playoffs.
“We have a great opportunity to make amends.”
On Sunday afternoon a much more accomplished Storm performance saw them close the regular season with a 116-93 victory at Sportspace against second-from-bottom Derby Trailblazers.
A blistering first period saw Hemel jump to a 17-4 lead and dominate the quarter behind 12 points from Roberts and 10 from eventual joint top-scorer Tom Adorian (20 points, eight rebounds).
It was Hemel’s turn to dominate the rebounding as they won the battle of the boards 48-34 and also shot at an impressive 52 per cent success rate, included eight triples.
By the end of the third quarter Storm’s lead had ballooned to 96-72 as Youngblood substituted freely and protected key players carrying injuries. His team controlled the final stanza to guarantee their place in the playoffs.
After the final buzzer, the youngsters in the crowd lined the outside of the court so players and staff could give them ‘high fives’ as a thank you for their support this season.
Team and scorers v Solent Kestrels: Bode Adeluola 19, Wayne Yeboah 15, AJ Roberts 12, Tom Adorian 12, Lee Greenan 9, Walid Mumuni 7, Jack Burnell 6, Dave Ajumobi 4, Mike Darlow 3, Ladi Brown, Courtney Van-Beest, Chuck Duru.
Team and scorers v Derby Trailblazers: Adorian 20, Adeluola 20, Roberts 16, Yeboah 13, Darlow 10, Greenan 10, Duru 10, Brown 7, Van-Beest 4, Mumuni 4, Rhyce Donegal 2, Burnell.