After a successful regular season, Ipswich progressed into the play-off phase of the season and were rewarded with a daunting trip to the North West to face the perennially strong Manchester Mystics. Upsetting the odds and the history book, Kevin Manning’s girls came away from the North-West with a 66-61 win.
Both teams struggled to get things going from the tip-off with the scoreboard not moving until the third minute of the match and it was the home side that were then first to get to grips with the game and the intense atmosphere. The chances Ipswich were making failed to produce any points and the defence was failing to disrupt a Manchester team that were operating well under the leadership of their England PG. Ipswich substitutions made for closer competition but at the end of the first quarter, Ipswich were chasing a 17:9 scoreline.
The second frame saw the visitors start to fire at the offensive end and by mid-way through the quarter the deficit had been erased and confidence was increasing. Ipswich began to claim more loose balls and were increasingly able to spring fast-break opportunities, and as the game became more stretched it was the visitors that benefited. As the buzzer sounded for half-time, Ipswich held their first lead of the game; 29:27.
The home side started the second half brighter and retook the lead early in the third period, starting to revel in the support of a growing and increasingly partisan crowd. The Ipswich girls coped outstandingly with this new challenge and a closer scoring quarter was setting up for a tense finale.
At the start of the final period Ipswich were trailing by three pts. A strong opening run saw Ipswich get their noses quickly in front but Manchester came back equally strongly and ignited the spectators, whose numbers now had been bolstered by the crowd from an adjoining court. A team of lesser character may have struggled in this atmosphere, but all of Manchester could not shake Ipswich loose and with a little over two minutes remaining, the visitors retook control of the scoreboard. This was a critical time to take the lead, and the subsequent urgency of the home side only proved to help Ipswich to increase the lead through the dying seconds. Ipswich held their nerve and ran out 66:61 winners.
Susannah Rafiu was the high scorer with 23 points, but it took a team effort to secure the victory. Makenna Williams (12), Millie Pearson (10) and Dallya Calver (10) were also regularly on the scoreboard.
This result went against the historic form book – Ipswich teams have struggled mightily in playoff matchups with Manchester in recent seasons – and the play-off seedings. Many teams arrive in Manchester with hope, but few leave with a win, so the club is rightly proud of this achievement.
Ipswich advance to face familiar competition from the East region. They now take on the home Conference winners London Youngbloods in two weeks’ time.