Ipswich are sending a junior girls’ team to the National Final Four for the first time in over twenty years after Esther Little’s 26 points powered Coach Amy Linton’s Under-16 Girls past Surrey Goldhawks in a raucous Copleston Sports Centre on Sunday.
England international Little had plenty of help from her team-mates as Ella Pearson finished with 17 points and Under-14s stars Cameron Taylor-Willis (13) and Susannah Rafiu (nine) also made big contributions.
In a frantic first quarter, Ipswich struggled at the free-throw line but their commitment to offensive rebounding gave them a slender 18-14 advantage over Surrey.
“I cannot wait to see what we can achieve in Manchester” – Amy Linton
Both teams racked up the fouls as the first half progressed and minutes before half-time, Surrey broke away a little to establish a five-point lead at 31-26. But key baskets from Little and Taylor-Willis brought the hosts level as the first half ended 31-31.
Ipswich trailed 54-51 to start the final frame but went on a huge run keyed by dogged defense as Nicole Aston and Tash Jarvis increasingly kept the Surrey shooters out of the game, while Ipswich’s size inside caused the Goldhawks other problems.
Moreover, Ipswich had stopped leaking offensive rebounds to their guests, which would prove decisive.
The lead stretched to as many as 11 at 71-60 before Surrey made a run to within four, but they never got closer and Little’s scoring at the other end was enough to power Ipswich to the finals weekend at the National Basketball Centre in Manchester.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic with what this very special group of players have achieved,” said Linton.
“From Esther, Ella and Cameron leading the scoring to Susannah stepping up to Under-16s and contributing well, our guards Emily Baker, Kenzie Day, Nicole and Tash playing brilliant defence and working selflessly on offense – everyone on our squad played a part today.
“We move on to the Final Four full of confidence now and I cannot wait to see what we can achieve in Manchester.”
• Linton’s girls are Ipswich’s last team standing, as Adam Robinson and the Under-18 Girls were eliminated at their quarter-final stage, going down 67-57 at Oaklands Wolves.