On Monday the 20th of February 2017 we had a triple header of the 51st Senior Nationals group stages at the Police Park. The first game was a Women’s encounter between SL Army and SL Schools which was followed by a Men’s divisions clash between SL Police and SL Army and finally a group decider between SL Air Force and Hambantota BA.
Game 1 (Women)
SL Army (Women) vs. SL Schools: SL Army Girls secure the 4th and final spot to advance to the semis
The opening game for the evening had a slow start with both teams not quite on their mark on offence, and the 1st quarter ended 13-9 in favour of SL Army. Although the offensive struggles continued into the 2nd quarter as well, SL Army dominated this period out-scoring their opponents by 11 points (28-13). SL Schools led by Meloney Dasanayke and Pawani Ranepura made a threatening come-back in the 3rd quarter taking that period 11-17 and giving themselves a fighting chance going into the 4th and final quarter (39-30). However SL Army tightened up their defence and managed to convert free throws resulting from fouls to win the game by a 13-point margin and grab the only remaining semi-final spot in the Women’s division (52-39). SL Army (Women) will be taking on the 1st seed of the group stages – ‘Mercantile BA’ in their semis. SL Schools unfortunately are eliminated from this tournament.
J. Thushanandani was the most productive offensively for SL Army with a game-high 20 points followed by their young and upcoming star forward Keyasha Siriwardana who chipped in 10 points. The latter would have to step her game up a notch if they are to stand a fighting chance against the mighty Mercantile BA at the semi-finals. E. Kunatheepa, Yasara Siriwardana and Melissa Dunuwille will have to do the same for SL Army.
Final scores : SL Army BA (Women) 52 vs SL Schools (Women) 39
Top scorer : J. Thushanandini- 20 Points (SL Army)
Keyasha Siriwardana (Star forward, SL Army) – Winning team
“We came to this game pumped-up and determined to win as we were facing a formidable and different opponent. We had drawn up a specific plan to cross this hurdle and I should mention this was the match we were most ready for. SL Army Girls’ have never entered a final in a major tournament. We will be giving everything in the Semi-finals and are hoping to create history. This has been a tough tournament for our young and (relatively) inexperienced team, but I think if we prepare ourselves adequately we should have a really good chance of winning it”
Meloney Dasanayake and Selomi Gunasekara (Sri Lanka Schools BA) – Losing team
“We are a young set of players, born 99 and below. We’ve gained very valuable experience playing in this tournament. We would like to thank the selection committee and Head coach Susil sir (Susil Udukumbura) and Anton sir. They provided great guidance and training for us in preparation of this tournament. We will make use of this experience in our up-coming tournaments”.
Game 3 (Men)
Hambantota BA (Men) vs. SL Air Force (Men): Hambantota triumphant in Group decider
The final game of the evening was a group-deciding encounter between Hambantota BA and SL Air Force and the game lived up to its hype. Team SL Air Force was the first to throw the heavy punches at the beginning of the game although Hambantota BA recovered quick enough to minimize the damage. The 1st quarter score read 15-16 in favour of SL Air Force. Hambantota BA slowed the game down drastically in the 2nd quarter working primarily with their big Centers on the post and edged past the Airmen slightly going into the break (35-32).
SL Air Force completely lost their way coming into the 3rd quarter making rash 3 Point attempts and not taking care of the ball causing a ton of turn overs. Hambantota BA took advantage of this situation and made sure they kept the score card ticking and out-scored their opponents by 9 points in the period (59-47). SL Air Force made several runs to try and bridge the deficit but Hambantota were always one step ahead and won the game 74-66.
Hambantota BA are the Group champions of Group B and will be facing the unners-up of Group A – ‘Colombo BA’. SL Air Force, too qualify to the Semi-final list as the Runners-up of their Group and will face the champions of Group A Mercantile BA in the Semis.
Final scores : Hambantota BA 74 vs SL Air Force BA 66
Top scorer : – Andrew Alphonsus 21 Points (Hambantota BA)
Tharindu Fernando (Assistant Coach, Hambantota BA) – Winning team
“Our strategy in this game was to play to our strengths. Although we cannot match SL Air Force’s speed, we have a more experienced squad and we made use of that in this game. We used as much clock as possible (out of the available 24 seconds per possession) to recover from fatigue caused as a result of guarding a constantly moving Air Force team. This match was a very close encounter because of their (SL Air Force) 3 Point-shooting, but we were prepared this and were able to minimize their damage. We have a sound game-plan for our Semi-finals, and we will be most definitely going in hard for the win.”
Gratian Anthony (Vice Captain, SL Air Force) – Losing team
“We had to play this game with an injured player (Indika Mahesh) which was a big disadvantage for us. There was also lingering fatigue from the gruelling SL Army match on our team. We had all our previous matches at Henry Pedris and the sudden shift of locations too played a part as Hambantota had the advantage of playing a match at Police Park before. These factors along with some mistakes we made on Offense led to our defeat today. However we are confident of beating Mercantile BA in the semi-finals as they have had many close calls at the group stages”.