Mersey Tigers made it a treble-winning season with a 79-74 victory in the BBL play-off final against Sheffield Sharks.
Tony Garbelotto’s side led from start to finish to gain the perfect revenge for their BBL Cup Final defeat at the hands of the Sharks in January, the only blip in an almost perfect season on the court.
Despite their off-court problems, the Tigers have closed the season out in some style, winning the BBL Trophy in March before wrapping up the BBL Championship title last month.
Although it was an unspectacular finish to what at times has been a gripping campaign, the Tigers were deserving of their triumph, as the Sharks never provided the bite that many were expecting once they trailed in the first half.
Much of that was down to the performance of Tiger Nate Reinking, absent in the previous final defeat, as he did a superb job of keeping Sharks dangerman Steve D’Agostino quiet – D’Agostino landed a record seven three-pointers as the Sharks romped home in January – leaving many to wonder whether the Tigers could have made it an incredible quadruple had Reinking been fit four months ago.
Head Coach Tony Garbelotto said: “I’m unbelievably proud of my guys for what they’ve achieved and what they’ve come through.
“We had to really dig deep with injuries over the past month. I’ve no idea what the future holds for this group but I think what we’ve achieved has been incredible.”
Boosted by the return of captain Drew Sullivan, who has missed the play-off campaign with an ankle injury, the Tigers got on the board first and helped themselves to a 23-14 first quarter lead.
Recently crowned British Player of the Year Andrew Thomson and James Jones, who both completed the remarkable feat of having played in every Tigers match this season, then got in on the act as the Tigers maintained their advantage.
Jones was named the final’s Most Valuable Player for a 17 point haul, which included five three-pointers from seven attempts.
Although the Tigers continued to hold the Sharks at arms length, there was always the threat that their opponents would get back, much like they did in turning back a deficit in the semi-final against Newcastle last weekend.
Perry Lawson’s three-pointer had seemingly put the game beyond the Sharks, but Mike Tuck kept them in at 54-48. However, they just couldn’t get closer to the Tigers, and when the deadly Jones and Reinking landed successive buckets, the Tigers had a double digit advantage.
The Tigers fans were given an anxious moment when Thomson was pegged for unsportsmanlike conduct, and when a technical foul followed straight after, the Sharks had landed six points in quick succession, with still two minutes on the clock.
But the Tigers weren’t to be denied the treble that their players had targeted after January’s heartbreak, and although a late Sharks flurry added gloss to the scoreline, the Tigers held out 79-74.
MVP Jones said: “We’ve tried not to focus on the problems off the court too much. The constant we’ve had is coming to the basketball court to work and we’ve been confident in our abilities.”