Leamington Spartans were the toast of the town after knocking the holders and favourites Arden Griffins out of the Handicap Cup.
Spartans were only formed in the summer and applied for Division Two status but in a big shuffle, this division was merged with the top flight, and, after being thrust in with the big boys, they have more than acquitted themselves. But the Handicap Cup is a great leveller and, armed with their thirty point start, they set about preserving their debuting status in the competition against Griffins, who boast two of the league’s leading scorers in Luke Hatfield and Paul Roberts.
Spartans have fielded a full complement of players so far, but were robbed of the services of leader Claudio Rossi in the opening half with an ankle injury, but the rest gave their all for the cause and none more so than Michael O’Neill who calmness personified at the free-throw line at the end to win it for the home side. Griffins set about their task with earnest and pulled back nine before Leamington had troubled the scorer, but once they managed to get going, they stemmed the flow and stopped the “hot-shots” to lead by two additional points at 58-26.
They were clinical from the line, dropping in six from six on the way to a half-time lead at 67-34. Roberts and Hatfield came out bombing in the second-half and they took the game by the scruff of its neck, closing the gap to twelve at 77-65, and setting it all up for a grand finale. But once more Spartans stopped them and Roberts failed to find the target in the last ten minutes as the pressure increased. It was back to two with a minute left, then one as Leamington tried to keep the ball and hang on to a famous win. Then O’Neill was fouled and went to the line with seconds remaining. They both went up and in to give Griffins the ball but now trailing by three, and with a last chance to take it to overtime. They drove, shot, rebounded and tried again but failed to penetrate the hoop and Spartans had won it 90-87.
O’Neill only scored six points but what an important contribution he made, particularly in those dying seconds as Leamington took their place in the semi-finals, leaving Arden to try again – uncharacteristically in the Plate competition.
Tile Hill Trojans 1, conceded forty, but had no trouble in brushing aside Coventry Tornadoes and the league leaders were in total control from the off, pressurising Tornadoes to hit them with a 34-2 opening quarter. Ash Dickson led the charge with 40 himself as Trojans recovered the handicap and took the lead on the stroke of half-time at 59-57 as Tornadoes floundered. Things got worse for the Hereward visitors who lost Tom Knibbs with a knee injury as Trojans cashed in, with Farouk Bello getting more court-time than usual and repaying coach Robinson with 21 points as Austin Dickson backed up his brother with 19.
Coventry College took apart Cracovia Stratford, pulling back their fifteen point handicap in the first quarter to go ahead and steam away from there to win 92-72 with Vaidas Cerkunovas grabbing 41. Tamworth Tigers make up the semi-finalists following their 75-64 win at Trojans 2. The home side led 20-0 on handicap and Tigers hunted them down with Lukasz Bolda firing them as he made 35 of their points.