Leopards eye National Trophy semi-final

First published in Local Sport

LEOPARDS will look to reach the National Trophy semi-final for the fourth time in five years when they host Derby Trailblazers at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday afternoon (4pm).

The Trophy, which is the league cup for Division One sides, was the one competition that the Big Cats failed to win last season, going out in the semi-final at Bristol Academy Flyers.

The game is a repeat of last season’s play-off final, which Leopards won 95-82 to complete the treble, but Derby have shown few signs of the form which saw them finish third last season and win the title in 2010.

Jamie Maudsley’s side are currently 12th in the table with three wins from 11 games. However, the first of those victories came against the Leopards in late November when arguably the Big Cats’ worst performance of the campaign saw them go down 80-65.

Four wins in six games saw Leopards finish second in Group A of the Trophy, while Derby split their six games with three wins and as many losses to finish third in Group B and set up Sunday’s show-down in Brentwood. A trip to Bradford Dragons or Hemel Storm awaits the winner of the tie.

Player-coach Robert Youngblood is excited about Sunday’s game. He said: “The Trophy is a chance for us to win some silverware, so it’s an important game for us. We know the danger that Trailblazers pose – we didn’t go into the game up there with the right attitude and cost us. We won’t make the saw mistake again.”

The Big Cats go into the weekend on the back of a weekend that saw them split their two leagues.

They gained revenge for their opening day loss at Tees Valley Mohawks with a hard-fought 96-88 victory at Basildon Sporting Village on Saturday evening.

Greg Hernandez led the way with a 26 point, 13 rebound double-double for Robert Youngblood’s side, while Taner Adu finished with 22 points and five boards. Dan Dunscombe had arguably his best game in a Leopards vest, hitting eight of his nine shots on the way to 18 points in 21 minutes, while Carl Josey added 12 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Simon Cummings missed out on a triple-double by a single point as a late three-point attempt rimmed out, adding 11 rebound and as many assists. Leopards led for 34 of the 40 minutes but never managed to pull away from a Mohawks team who went into the game sitting second in the Division One table.

The game was tied with 2:34 on the clock before Josey gave Leopards a lead they would never lose off a Hernandez assist.

The visitors were limited to just two points in the final 150 seconds as Youngblood’s defence proved crucial and Cummings hit three of four at the foul line to wrap up the win.

However, the following day at Medway Park Crusaders saw the Big Cats produce a disappointing performance to go down 92-78.

Leopards controlled the first period 23-17, but were outscored 50-37 across the middle two quarters and then allowed the hosts to go on a 12-2 run at the start of the final period to effectively wrap the game up.

Josey and Hernandez finished with 20 points apiece, while Adu added 14 for the Big Cats.

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