Youngbloods under 16 boys achieved a massive second place finish in their first ever National League Final Fours appearance after running riot against Ipswich in the semi-finals advancing to the prestigious playoff final against Manchester Magic.
The first game of the event with Youngbloods playing against Ipswich, was full of twists and turns. Youngbloods showed their nerves and started the game on the back foot with Ipswich storming into an early 13-0 advantage causing Coach Aaron Senior to call an early time-out and having to rally his troops for a fight back into the game. Following the timeout his troops showed what they are made off with real gutsy play from Rayon Brown and Tyren Stuart in transition resulting in an 18-0 run of their own to take the advantage of the game, leading the first quarter 19-18. Second quarter and third quarters proved to be the best defensive effort from the Youngbloods team spring boarded by Emmanuel Odunsi and Ify Chuks, restricting Ipswich to scoring 20 points over the two periods of play. Youngbloods headed into the final period of play leading by 16 points, and held their own heavily rotating players and great scores and rebounds by Joel Osei and Shaquille Williams. Youngbloods held on to the lead and remained coolly in charge dispatching Ipswich and advancing to the Final with a 73-55 win with Jelani Watson-Gayle top scoring with 21 points, ably backed up by a 15 point, 12 rebound double double from Emmanuel Odunsi. Youngbloods now advancing to the play-off final versus Manchester Magic.
The Final of the National under 16 league was upon Youngbloods who surged into an early lead through great fast team play from Jelani Watson-Gayle and Obi Agu. The scores remained neck and neck at 22-22 until Rayon Brown and Darran Henry controlled the game and dictated tempo, leasing to crucial point and sending Youngbloods in to 28-23 first quarter lead. Watson-Gayle and Brown continued to fire throughout the second quarter and with the introduction of Vytautas Rimkus back into the game leading to crucial 3 point shots being converted. A Lapse on the last play in the second quarter, allowed Manchester to convert a 2 point play going in to half time, Youngbloods down by 1 point, 44-43.
The second half was a battle that both sides knew a scoring run had to be made, and Manchester took the initiative to begin the fourth quarter, coming big and dominating the inside. Midway through the third and Manchester we leading by 5. Youngbloods were not giving up without a fight, and stormed back into the game through an Adikwu score and back to back three pointers from Rimkus and Watson-Gayle, ending the third quarter with Manchester still in the lead by 1 point, 64-63. In the final and deciding quarter, Youngbloods started off poorly defensively and allowed the Magic a 7-0 run, following a timeout Youngbloods proved they are no pushovers, going on a 7-0 themselves taking the game back to a 1 point game with 6 minutes left. The last two minutes were the most crucial, with Youngbloods down by 6 points, a highly-controversial Unsportsmanlike foul call from the referees and sealed the game from Manchester allowing them to convert two free-throws and possession of the ball at the half way line. Youngbloods tried their best to fight back into it but were left with too little time to peg back any points. Youngbloods lost in the final to Manchester Magic and thus finished second place in the country in their first Final Four appearance. Watson-Gayle had 29 points (on 65% shooting) and 10 rebounds whilst Odunsi collecting an incredibly impressive 21 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks and 2 steals in the final defeat to Manchester.
Head Coach Aaron Senior said, “Although we didn’t win the final, I am truly inspired by the journey we had this season, nobody expected us to get this far, but we grew together as a team and a family unit this year, every player worked for each other and it showed, the boys have reasons to be a bit disappointed but should be proud of the Journey and the achievement for playing in their first Play-Off Final. We will be on this stage and back here soon!”