Thunder out to end long wait for silverware
Worthing Thunder are aiming to bring silverware to the south coast for the first time in 12 years after setting up a National League Division 1 play-off final against Hemel Storm in Manchester on Sunday week.
A superb second half saw Worthing seal a 76-65 semi-final win over newly-crowned league champions Loughborough Student Riders on Saturday.
In a physically demanding game Thunder took control in the third quarter and, despite threats of a Riders comeback late on, they were matched by a combination of sublime team offence and individual brilliance.
And when the Student Riders attempted one last push it was fitting that Zaire Taylor, who leads the team with 25.4 points a game, ended the university side’s season for good.
The American casually drove to the lane and through traffic, scoring a nonchalant reverse lay-up to send the Thunder fans that had outnumbered the Loughborough support on the day to their feet.
Speaking after booking a play-off final spot, Taylor said: “We have been strategic in how we have done things this season and when we knew we couldn’t get the league title, our goal was to go all out for the play-offs.
“Now that we’re here, as soon as the buzzer went, the enthusiasm with the guys was great. I feel great because I feel this is where Worthing Thunder should be.
“As a club, traditionally, they fight for titles so it’s great that the fans get a chance to support us in Manchester in the final and we have no other goal but to win.
“As a competitor, that’s what players want to do. They want to win. I’ve been fortunate to win pretty much everywhere I have gone and now I want to win the play-off title with Worthing.”
Thunder’s record in finals is not great. The last time they won a title was in 2006 when they beat Manchester Magic in Newcastle to lift the play-off championship.
Otherwise, it has been a long list of heartbreaking defeats in big games. Since returning to the National League from the BBL in 2012, they have reached two finals and lost both.
They were pipped to the play-off title in 2013 by Reading Rockets following an heroic run that saw them reach the final after losing their first ten games of the regular season. Thunder lost to Manchester Magic more recently in the 2016 National Cup final in Sheffield as a second-half breakdown led to their demise.
Plus, Hemel will have the added advantage of already being in a final this season.
They beat Manchester Magic 94-77 to lift the National Cup title back in January.
Thunder coach Daniel Gayle believes it’s about what happens on the day, not in the past, that will determine the outcome.
Gayle said: “Hemel have already been in a final this year. I have no doubt they will be prepped and ready to try to win another.
“It’s ultimately going to come down to who wants it more on the day and I envisage that will be us.”