ROSSENDALE Raptors’ dreams of National Shield success may have been dashed but they do not have time to wallow in defeat.
The Raptors are still licking their wounds after they went down to an agonising 91-88 semi-final defeat at Oxford Brookes on Sunday.
But the basketball aces must pick themselves up for what their coach Ken Masser has hailed as one of the ‘most important games’ of the campaign.
The Raptors welcome Birmingham Bullets to the Haslingden Sports Centre on Saturday (5.15pm) for a top-of-the-table clash knowing victory would be a massive boost to their prospects of winning the National League Division Three (North) title.
Raptors coach Masser said: “This is one of the most important games we have for the remainder of the season and we are in need of a big crowd to cheer us to victory.”
The Raptors kept their promotion push on track last Saturday with a hard-fought 92-88 win at Sheffield Sabres.
The well-organised Sabres, coached by British basketball legend Peter Scantlebury, posed a dangerous threat throughout the match.
But the Raptors led for most of it thanks to good play from guards Papis Samb, Steven Gayle and new signing Josh Houghton.
Another recent recruit, centre Tom Sutton, was a handful, scoring consistently in the first half to ensure the Raptors went in at the interval 46-39 in front.
The second half saw a shooting onslaught from the Sabres and Ash Chandley in particular.
The latter hit an astonishing nine three-pointers on his way to a game-high 38 points.
The Sabres hit 15 three-pointers in total.
But just as the match was coming to a crunch, Houghton hit a deep three-pointer of his own before Samb produced a stunning fadeaway jump shot.
That gave Raptors a narrow lead with a minute to play.
Gayle, who scored 15 points, then came up trumps with a crucial steal and top-scorer Samb, who netted 23 points, closed out the contest from the free-throw line.
Sutton (16) and Houghton (14) also weighed in heavily with points.
The National Shield last-four showdown with Oxford the following night was also a tight affair.
The Raptors, already without Conor Porter and the cup-tied Houghton, lost Sutton to a foot injury and John Lindsay at half-time to a suspected broken wrist.
But despite the double setback the Raptors, spearheaded by top scorer Gayle (31) and Anthony Kuzcaj (22), ran Oxford close before losing by three points.