#1 HTS Storm 81 – 68 #8 Stoke-on-Trent College

HTS Storm booked their place in the ABL Final Four after coming away with a hard-fought 81-68 victory over Stoke on Trent College in front of a raucous crowd in Crawley. In an even contest early on, it was HTS who took the first real control of the game with a flurry of scores in the second quarter.

After almost going score-for-score in the opening minutes, a big triple from Findlay Mitchell gave Storm the lead at 14-13, before Ezikiel Oyemade responded with two made free throws at the line to give Stoke the 14-15 advantage at the first break. Ollie Deval opened the second quarter scoring before Joe Peak knocked down a three-pointer to give Stoke their biggest lead of the game at 14-20.

Following a timeout from Coach Daniel Hildreth, HTS found their feet to go on a decisive 16-0 run behind a scoring punch from Bako Saxton coming off the bench. Bayley Gaunt and Alex Tew responded with a quick eight points to cut the deficit for the visitors, before Cameron Hildreth made the crowd erupt. The class of 2021 guard wound down the clock before creating separation to knock down a triple on the half-time buzzer, giving Storm a nine-point cushion at the half as they lead 37-28.

The third quarter saw a battle of the two hot-shooting guards on either team, as Cameron Hildreth hit a trio of three-pointers in the period as part of a 15 point quarter for the first-year guard. Bayley Gaunt responded for the road team with a trio of triples of his own, hitting back-to-back-to-back from deep, bringing his personal tally to 15 – matching Hildreth’s output.

Just eight points adrift at the third-quarter break, trailing 57-49, Stoke came out in the early stages of the final stanza ready to fight for the result. Jacob Williams re-entered the game after being side-lined with foul trouble early, and hit a big three-pointer to punctuate a Stoke run that brought the game within six points at 68-62. Coach Hildreth called timeout to stop the bleeding, and veteran leadership within the squad took over as HTS went on a 7-0 run to extend the gap back out to 13 points. Back-to-back scores from Bayley Gaunt kept Stoke within touching distance, but Cameron Hildreth yet again responded with a deep contested triple that ended any hope of a last-gasp comeback.

Class of 2021 wing Matt Aziamale said after the contest, “We locked in on defence down the stretch and made it count on the other end.”

An impressive outing for Bayley Gaunt saw him lead Stoke with 32 points, while big man Alex Tew had 12 points to join Gaunt in double figures. The back-court pairing of Ollie Deval and Jacob Williams chipped in seven and six points, respectively, as the visitor’s other major contributors. Cameron Hildreth led all scorers with a 40 point performance, knocking down eight three-pointers, while fellow first year guard Findlay Mitchell had 10 points. Matt Aziamale also chipped in with 10 points, while Josh Otor finished with seven and Ben Hilton added six points.

#1 overall seed HTS Storm head into the ABL Final Four preparing for a home tie against #5 seeded Haringey Sixth Form College, after the London-based outfit dispatched Northern Conference champions #4 seed Queen Ethelburga’s in a 65-125 drumming. The exciting match up is set for Wednesday 4th March, with a place in the showpiece Academy Finals the spoils for the victor.