COUNTY Upper School’s under-17 basketball side became the region’s first team to play for a national title over the weekend, but fell just short of being crowned champions.
The team’s appearance in the England Basketball Association National schools tournament came following a successful domestic season in the eastern regional pool, with eight teams going through to compete in the Midlands Finals where County Upper were matched up against Burleigh College in Leicester.
Despite their opponents being linked to professional team, the Leicester Raiders, County Upper began to dominate proceedings and opened up a 17-point lead by the end of the third quarter.
They then continued to show their class after the interval, defending strongly to go and finish the tough encounter, winning by 25 points, 69-44, to book their place in the National tournament at the Nottingham Wildcats Arena.
The last four teams representing the south of England, north of England, London and Midlands then faced off with the semi-finals and final taking place in just one day.
County Upper were drawn against Helsby School, representing the north of England, and started nervously, missing numerous chances, leading to a first half deficit of four points.
However, this was soon to change as County Upper dominated the next quarters, eventually going on to win the tie by 27 points in a 96-69 victory to set up a national title decider against London representatives St Aloysius School, who beat Itchen College in the other semi-final match.
However, having to play two games in the space of 24 hours hit the team hard as injury, illness and academic issues left the team with only six players able to make the final.
Unable to recover sufficiently from their hard-fought semi-final win against Helsby, County Upper struggled to take hold of the match as their opponents enjoyed far more possession.
Despite battling tired legs and exhaustion, County Upper only trailed St Aloysius by three points at half-time as the score stood at 33-30.
However, they were unable to sustain their battling performance as their opponents finished the game strongly to ease to a 85-63 victory to claim the title, leaving County Upper as runners up.
Despite the defeat, coach Darren Johnson was quick to heap praise on his players as he reflected on their remarkable journey.
“I am proud of all our players, they have put in so much hard work and dedication towards their individual and team development and thoroughly deserve all the achievements they have gained,” he said.
“I have found during my time as a coach that teams will sometimes have to find a way to battle through adversity to achieve great things, but on this occasion we came up short in finding a way.
“However, we will never forget the sweat and hard work all have sacrificed to make this season happen and we will remember this for a long time to come.”