Burger King Clapham Bulls’ talented team that featured finals most valuable player Akeem Marsh hoisted the 2019 Co-operators General Insurance Barbados Amateur Basketball Association Championship trophy last night with a 3-2 series victory over Station Hill Cavaliers.
During the decisive game five played at the Barbados Community College, it was winners take all and Bulls ensured pride and joy were restored to the basketball community of Clapham when they won 65-61 against reigning four-time knockout kings Cavaliers.
Bulls, the Ryan Leacock-coached championship team, dominated 19-14, 39-31 and 52-43 in the first three stanzas. They also played well to shake off a few anxious moments in the fourth quarter and secured their hard-fought four-point win.
The last time Bulls lifted a league title was 13-years-ago in 2006 when Leacock [now coach] was a player. But with the recruitment of five new players for the 2019 season, [Romaine Lovell, Kelan Phillips, Tehron King, Daniel Durant and Marsh who was outstanding this season averaging over 26 points per game] Bulls are back on top.
“It feels great to be back on top again because basketball is critical to the Clapham community, and you could see from the response of the fans how important it is to see Clapham basketball back again. We have been down for quite a few years, so it is great to see the programme making a turn.
“The team is almost a totally different team from last year; we added five new players since last year. And what we’ve done we started early in terms of our training since October last year, getting together and putting in some work with the under-19 programme and then the seniors came out as well. So, I think that the time we put in throughout the year obviously showed up here tonight,” Leacock said as he also thanked Burger King for their continued sponsorship.
In the all-important decisive championship match point-guard Rahiim Gibbons registered a game-high 21 points, Marsh tallied 15 and Andrew Ifill had 11 points. Kelan Phillips accounted for eight points, Tehron King recorded four while Romaine Lovell, Daniel Durant and Amal Smith, all had two points each.
Bulls were strong on defence and Marsh who played physically on the inside against Cavaliers had 12 defensive rebounds, two block shots and a steal. He also had four assists and occupied the court for close to 38 minutes.
Speaking after the game, MVP and first-time league winner Marsh said: “First time feels good. I tried to play through whatever they were throwing at me. I tried not to focus on the referees missing calls and focus on my game.”
The Hunte brothers, Darren  and Joel , played a strong attacking game coming on to the end of the final quarter. Stephan Ottley and Jamai Puckerin scored eight points each, Saeed Norville added six and captain Jason Smith a mere five.
Darren Hunte, the elder of the two brothers, scored a two-point floating jump shot that allowed Cavaliers a one-point [61-60] advantage with two minutes remaining in the game.
But despite the efforts of those two for Cavaliers, Ifill with one of two free throws equalised the scores 61-61, then followed that up by a driving for a layup to ensure Bulls led 63-61.
That then forced the Carlos Moore-coached Cavaliers team to call time-out and on resumption centre Jamai Puckerin missed a jumper and picked up an apparent knee injury with 38 seconds to play.
Bulls then grabbed hold of possession and Ifill with a drive then passed to captain Gibbons for a two-point jump shot that placed the final nail in the coffin with 21 seconds left in the game.
Coach Leacock explained that he was not worried about coming into the decisive fifth game against Cavaliers who came from behind twice in the series to level it at 2-2.
“As I told the guys in the five-game series, we played Station Hill eight times for the season, and every game was close. So, I told them don’t get too high on the wins, don’t get too low on the losses and that is why I think we were able to rebound after each loss,” Leacock said.
And last night final championship game was yet another close encounter between the two teams who met in the knockout final a couple of weeks ago and now the league title finals.
Strong defence was the order of business and with six seconds to play in the penultimate quarter an intentional foul was blown on Amal Smith after he swung against Cavaliers forward Kevin Sealy. That forced referee Richard Waldron assisted by Rene Batson and Dexter Griffith to make the call.
At that stage, the score was 52-42 in the third quarter and even though Sealy scored one of two, it never made a difference in terms of change of momentum as Bulls headed into the final quarter with a comfortable 52-43 cushion.
Cavaliers came storming back in the final stanza and did well to take the lead [61-60], but Bulls played brilliantly strong defence and scored on offence to deservingly add another piece to their trophy cabinet.