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Giant killing in National Cup final by Bury’s Little star

UNDERDOG WIN: Unbeaten Ipswich win National Cup Final against Essex
UNDERDOG WIN: Unbeaten Ipswich win National Cup Final against Essex

On paper it was an impossible task — a Division Two side overcoming the runaway leaders of Division One in the National Cup Final, writes Hannah Dolman.

But that’s just what Ipswich Basketball Club did on Saturday against Essex Blades, helped by Ixworth’s Esther Little, a 16-year-old who is already involved with the junior GB squad.

Little described the 67-58 victory — which also sees the WNBL Division Two North side extend their unbeaten run in all competitions this season — as ‘impossible to put into words’.

She said: “It’s such a great feeling, it’s just incredible to sit back and think, ‘we won, we did it’.

“It’s impossible to put into words what it means.

“We were definitely the underdogs as a team a whole league below and, with the way we started, it looked like it wasn’t even going to be a contest.

“You could tell how nervous we all were — we started really badly — but all the little things started to pay off as we got over our nerves.”

Little confidently added that the performance proved to any doubters what she and her teammates already knew, that Ipswich are a side worthy of a Division One place next season.

The Thurston Community College student said: “If we carry on as we are then we will be a Division One side next season.

“We always knew we were a good team and that we had the ability to go up, but now we’ve proved that to everyone else as well.

“The focus for the team for the rest of the season is promotion now, that would be amazing, and remaining unbeaten would just be the icing on the cake.”

Little, in her first season in the senior game, said the team worked well together as they each had specific roles which the others then trusted each other to complete.

Little was tasked with limiting the scoring opportunities of Essex’s top scorer, who had averaged about 35 points a game. Little thinks she kept her opposite number’s score as low as seven points.

She also netted 11 points, including the crucial basket that saw Ipswich take the lead for the first time in the match — with just five minutes left on the clock.

At one point the side had been 17 points down, before their comeback began, with Ipswich’s Harriet Welham awarded MVP (most valuable player).

Ipswich head coach Nick Drane said: “People use the term ‘fairy tale’ a bit too often, but to play in front of a huge crowd against the best team (eligible for the Cup) in the country just shows the character of these girls.

“I’m delighted.”

Meanwhile Stewart Kellett, CEO for Basketball England, said: “The National Cup continues to generate dreams and aspirations for clubs and their fans and this year’s run for Ipswich proves just that.

“The Women’s Final produced one of the most exciting finishes we’ve seen in recent years and both teams deserve credit. Essex are a match for some professional women’s teams and we should recognise the programme they run.

“That makes the achievement of Ipswich as a leading WNBL Division Two team even more remarkable as they managed to turn the form book on its head and achieved victory with a very young roster.

“Basketball England wants to attract more women and girls into playing, coaching, officiating and volunteering.

“This final was a brilliant advert for basketball and we have no doubt that those involved in the final will inspire other women and girls to get involved in the sport.”

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