WORTHING Thunder Basketball Club head coach Daniel Hildreth said he was “over the moon” with his side’s 54-53 EBL Division 1 play-off semi-final win over Team Northumbria on Saturday (April 27).
Speaking immediately after the game, he said: “Unbelievable is the word you can use. The manner in which we got to this stage is just incredible for everybody involved, for all the players, the fans, the organisation.
“I’m over the moon and all the guys are, too. The performance on the day was good enough to win. I felt the margin should have been bigger but I’m not going to complain.”
On the controversial finish, which saw Thunder awarded the winning basket on the goaltending rule, he said: “Honestly, I couldn’t tell. I knew that the net was touched as the ball was on the cylinder and KD then went up to tip it but by that stage the buzzer had gone off, so it was the initial contact with the ring or the net and I thought that was the reason for giving it as a goaltend.
“It’s a harsh decision either way. I feel for them and I apologised as no one wants to lose in that manner.
“They celebrated, thinking they were in the final and 30 seconds later it was taken away from them. I do feel for them, they played really well. They are a very, very good team and justifiably had coach of the year and I think they’ve been fantastic all year but it’s about us.
“We’re moving forward to the final and I can’t say how proud I am of the guys for sticking with it.”
Thunder guard Brendan Okoronkwo, who led Worthing’s scorers with 13 points, added: “It shouldn’t have ended like that. We said before we came here that that was the best team we were going to play, if we got through to the final. It shouldn’t have ended on that decision but it feels good to reach the final.
“I’m excited about the final, though. We were bottom of the table in December with no wins, so to get this far now and fail would hurt.
“But we’ve already achieved so much already and it would just be the icing on the cake tomorrow if we can win it.”
Thunder will come up against Reading Rockets’ Luke Nelson, a former Thunder junior, in the final and Hildreth said: “The irony is that I coached Luke Nelson in his first ever basketball game when he was about nine years old, so to be coach him in his first ever game and to coach against him in his last ever EBL basketball game is quite fitting to say the least.
“What’s great about this is that of our squad of 15, 11 players came through the junior programme and obviously Luke is on the Reading team, so that’s 12 Worthing Thunder/Brighton Bear juniors playing in the final. I just think that sums it up.”
On meeting Reading, Hildreth said: “It’s not a disrespectful thing but we didn’t mind who we played. Reading went to over-time, so that’s an extra five minutes for them and we’ve had the emotion that we went through at the end of our game.
“We don’t want to feel that pain tomorrow that we felt momentarily today, so we’ll make sure we get a good night’s rest, and will have a team video session in the morning just for extra preparation ready for the game tomorrow.”