WORTHING Thunder Basketball Club suffered heartbreak in the semi-finals of a national cup competition for the second successive season on Saturday.
After losing at Leeds Carnegie in the last four of the National Cup last season, Thunder were knocked out in the last four of the National Trophy by Manchester Magic on Saturday evening, after double over-time, at Worthing Leisure Centre.
The lead changed hands 13 times during a back-and-forth encounter but Thunder hit back from a four-point deficit in the second period of over-time to lead 94-93 after a pair of free throws from Bud Johnston with five seconds to go. However, with Rory Spencer and Tomas Seduikis both fouled out, Magic grabbed the win when Ryan Lohfink sank a lay-up after he had received the ball inside with two seconds to go. Lohfink was fouled as he shot and then missed the resulting free throw, which ran down the clock and left Thunder crestfallen.
Thunder coach Daniel Hildreth said: “In a game like that, it feels unfair for either team to lose. We were both very evenly matched, we had a better start than them in the first half but they came out and were a little bit more aggressive than us and were a little bit more disciplined in the second half.
“With the amount of lead changes and tied games down the stretch, both teams made some big plays and, ultimately, it came down to one possession. And they came up with the play that got them the score and they had the added advantage of a free throw, which was missed deliberately to run the clock out.
“The locker room is a very solemn place right now and justifiably so. One of the things I said to the guys is we need to use this feeling as motivation moving forward. We don’t want to be feeling like this again.”
Seduikis sank a three-pointer in the closing stages of the first quarter to give Thunder a 20-19 lead at the end of the first stanza.
Worthing began to take control in the second period as Tom Ward, Seduikis and Dominic Baker all scored in quick succession to take Thunder 44-30 ahead with two minutes of the quarter left.
Manchester closed the gap to 46-36 by half-time and, led by Franc Garcia Garrido, they started the third quarter full of energy. Garcia Garrido struck with successive three-pointers as Manchester fought back to lead 49-48 midway through the stanza and the visitors went into the last quarter with a 56-55 advantage.
Thunder opened up a seven-point lead at 67-60 in the final period but Manchester responded to lead 72-69 after a three-pointer from Magic’s Tom Ward.
Both teams then led again, before Manchester’s Connor Murtagh sank one of two free throws to tie the game at 75-75. Manchester had possession with seven seconds to go but they wasted the inbounds play, which gave Thunder the last shot. However, Johnston’s off-balance three-point attempt missed its target and the game went into over-time.
Over-time was tense throughout as the lead continued to go back and forth. A basket from Johnston put Thunder 81-77 ahead, before Magic’s Nathan Schall sent the game to double over-time when he scored with 11 seconds to go.
Thunder did not lead in the second period of over-time until the two free throws from Johnston with five seconds to go but Manchester still had time to grab victory by the smallest of margins.
Spencer led Thunder with 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Bell hit 19 points and Ward sank 16. Garcia Garrido led Manchester with a game-high 25 points.
Manchester will play Reading Rockets in the final on February 22, after Rockets thrashed Tees Valley Mohawks 90-66 in the other semi-final.
Due to a production error, this report did not appear on page 105 of the February 13 edition.