We continue with the 2nd instalment of the Cheshire Jets season review three part article, by jets fan Rob Jeffries.
Enjoy Jets fans..
The winter blues being suffered throughout January were being felt all around the Northgate, and although the Jets were to be subjected to another defeat at home to Leicester Riders before the month was out, it was not without the resilience of the Cheshire players shining through. Considering they were on a six game losing streak, with the majority of those games being a close run affair, they did not suffer such a humiliating defeat from Riders in comparison to their previous two encounters, losing only by 7 points (73-80) and not in high double figures. The final quarter efforts were also improving, keeping enough in reserve to see out a game and not falter at the last.
Looking back on these results though, and whatever the statistics say in regards to Win-Loss ratio, each game Cheshire ran their opponents close every time. Considering injuries and line-up changes, the perils with running a 6-man rotation, each player was still playing for the fans and one another. Surely the rub of the green and a run of form would be due to John Lavery’s side?
It seems so as February saw three extremely important wins from four that were to keep the Jets in the hunt, as well as the arrival of a player who would slot in to become the final piece of John Lavery’s jigsaw.
Yet another local derby match-up to Mersey Tigers was the first of three back-to-back victories. It was kept very tight up until late in the second quarter when the Jets took the initiative, but what looked a foregone conclusion was not all that as Mersey were still desperate to beat their rivals to a play-off spot, however Adam Brown was again on hand to top score, stretch the lead back out and in doing so claimed what was only their second away win of the season so far (83-72).
Up next to face the reinvigorated Cheshire Jets were MK Lions, who despite having had an impressive start to their season were slowly being pegged back towards missing out on the play-offs. Once more, there was no clear cut charge by either side, but the Jets’ ability to stay on the high side by the end of each quarter of late was the decisive edge. That gave them the boost to dominate in the third as they took control and never were in real danger of losing the lead, as smiles began returning to the home crowd with an 85-76 win.
A live Sky recording was another reason to step up for Cheshire and show what they had to offer against Glasgow Rocks, but for the first half of basketball it seemed that any progress had gone up in smoke as the Jets trailed by 11 at the break. When Glasgow scored nine of the first ten points of the third before another three pointer by Andrew Wedemire would have one thinking that the Jets needed to just restrict the damage, however to their credit they were not ready to give up.
An unbelievable 27-8 run by Cheshire meant the game had truly been ripped wide apart going into the last phase with the scores tied 60-60. Adam Brown, who with every game was coming on leaps and bounds in the point-guard role helped the Jets to a 24 point turnaround when the scores were 70-65. The game was tied up again not long after by Gareth Murray for the Rocks who were ultimately stunned into submission as they were soon to rely on fouls to pull themselves back into contention, but with little effect as Cheshire claimed their third straight victory, together with the head-to-head over Rocks, with a score of 78-80.
Sometimes though, all good things must come to an end as happened when Newcastle Eagles visited the Northgate and with the help of Andrew Thomson and his 7 from 8 three point shooting, the league champions elect were in no trouble as they were in dominant form to win 82-95. It was though the first outing of a certain forward in Kai Williams, brother of former Jet Jamal, and would soon be the catalyst for a quite remarkable end to the season. Kai was a replacement for Milan Psaltou after just a week, when he did not quite fit into John Lavery’s plans for their run to the end of the season.
March was to be the somewhat transitional stage of the season. It was clear Kai was the all-important fifth man that the Jets had been hoping for, but to implement him and get the right team bond was just as critical too. The previous month had seen Cheshire re-establish themselves and put them back on course to secure that final play-off spot, but there was still a lot of hard work to put in.
Starting off with a trip to Worcester, who they would face again at home less than three weeks later, the Jets showed early signs in the game of putting in a strong performance, but despite this Wolves overpowered them late in the first quarter and were able to keep at bay and eventually pull away from Cheshire especially in the final ten minutes to win 79-95.
A double-header in the space of a week was to follow, pairing the Jets up with another team of title challengers, Plymouth Raiders.
The Raiders, who were also still in the hunt for the BBL Trophy at this point, featured previously mentioned Jamal Williams, brother of Kai, and this would see the pair face each other competitively in professional basketball for the first time ever.
Unfortunately for those in yellow and black, Kai would not be taking back the bragging rights as Plymouth would win at the Northgate first (79-88) followed by the win back at the Pavilions (105-109). Although the two defeats meant that Cheshire were on a four game losing streak, there was plenty to be confident about considering Plymouth’s position in the league and how close at times in both games that the Jets were to pulling off two victories instead. Firstly in the home game, where a late run in the third quarter saw Jets take the lead, but were beaten down by some excellent defence and perfectly executed offence by Raiders, and secondly in the away game where after almost an hour’s break between the third and fourth quarters (Foxy – Plymouth’s mascot – smashed the glass backboard during his trademark dunk routine resulting in the need to find another basket!) the Jets almost snatched victory at the death but Raiders just hung on.
An absolutely crucial victory at home against the Mersey Tigers was just what Coach Lavery would have been hoping for, and it was exactly what he got as his side claimed an 84-79 win, and ultimately a vital head-to-head over a side who would be vying for the elusive play-off spots. Despite running with an extremely short team, Tigers pushed the Jets for the entire game, and were on many occasions just within a point, but with a home crowd behind them, Cheshire stretched out their lead to five points and were right back in with a chance of making the play-offs.
The major blip came with Cheshire’s seemingly bogey team of the year, as Worcester Wolves headed to the Northgate the following week. For Lavery, the seemingly hard work put in by his players was undone in one night as the Jets suffered their heaviest defeat of the season, 65-94, and it was a night to see why Wolves had been somewhat of a surprise package in this year’s campaign.
To round March off was a trip to Sheffield, and a side who were not their usual dominant selves this season as in previous years. Nonetheless, Jets could ill afford to lose this, as the head-to-head would be decided and could have made all the difference in reaching the play-offs. Cheshire switched off in the second quarter allowing the Sharks to stretch a lead, but coming into the break showed flashes of what was still to come. Taking the edge by a point into the final quarter, a brilliant and game-winning points run from Adam Brown and Bill Cole helped secure victory and pushed the Jets into eighth place in the BBL Championship.
April was to be the most memorable, and enjoyable, of months for Cheshire Jets as a whole organisation; from fans to players and everyone else in between.
There were three head-to-heads still to be decided, win them all and be virtually guaranteed of a play-off spot. Starting with Guildford Heat at home, seventh in the league. Not ending a quarter ahead until going into the final stanza, Cheshire once again showed what they were made of by lasting the whole forty minutes rather, which was in stark contrast to how the season started. A win of 80-75 returned them a head-to-head of a third team this season.
Up next was a trip away to Leicester, who were still chasing a high league placing for an advantage in the play-offs, and they were needing a victory after having lost previously to Championship challengers Plymouth. A difficult task then for Cheshire it seemed? Not so, as Cheshire made all the running and were on the high side for the majority of the game. However, both sides looking as dominant as they were in the end of season push, one had to crack, and although being ahead at the end of all three quarters, the Jets faltered as a 14-2 run from Riders effectively killed the game off, one of many bursts of scoring on the night, leaving the game at 78-85.
This defeat left Cheshire over a week to prepare for their crucial visit to Milton Keynes, which would decide yet another head-to-head. If Jets fans were superstitious though, it was something to dread as it would be the night of Friday the 13th of April on which these two sides were to meet, and battle it out on court to be in the driving seat for a play-off spot.
Going into the game, the Jets were three wins from their last six games in the league, in comparison to Lions’ one from six. However, in scenarios such as this, sometimes form like that goes out of the window. Win this game and the two head-to-heads were in the bag against the closest challengers to a play-off spot. Lose and it could be in the lap of the Gods.
The lead swung both ways throughout the first quarter and into the next, but a 14-2 run from Kai Williams and Adam Brown helped put the Jets on the high side by 10 at the break. And it just got better and better as the evening progressed. At one stage Cheshire had extended the lead to a mighty 25 points, and all Lions could do before time was up was to reduce the score to a 17 point deficit, ending 95-78.
Despite all the worry of the season being a blow out early on in the campaign, it was now a chance to silence those doubters – and a win at home to Glasgow would do just that.