The St Andrews Women’s Basketball team made a successful National League debut on Sunday 18 September by edging out local rivals Edinburgh 45-44 at the University Sports Centre.
The team have come along so well under Callum Knox, the coach, and topped the Scottish league last season and found themselves in a three team play-off league, with the winner earning a place in the National League this season.
St Andrews faced a formidable challenge against both Leeds Beckett and Nottingham Trent Universities, both of whom have larger student bodies and more sports funding. The Saints triumphed though and shone in their opening fixture with Edinburgh.
Edinburgh, more accustomed to this level of competition, started the stronger and soon raced into an 18-10 lead. It looked like it might be a long afternoon for Saints but they produced a stirring comeback before half-time.
Some good hussle by the Saints players and improved accuracy under the basket saw them lead 28-25 at the break and they carried that momentum through into the third quarter.
The third quarter was considerably quieter, both on the court and amongst the crowd, as both teams struggled to find a rhythm and score consistent points. St Andrews managed to pull out a six point lead with only a minute to go in the quarter but Edinburgh nailed two late shots to make it 35-33 with only 10 minutes remaining.
Despite the aggressive posturing of the Edinburgh coach, St Andrews started the fourth quarter brighter and grabbed two baskets inside the opening minute to stretch their lead back out to 6. Edinburgh did come back into it and nailed a beautiful three point shot, soon followed by a simple two which narrowed St Andrews lead to just one point with five minutes to play.
The game had become increasingly open as both sides showed signs of fatigue and were desperate to secure the win and make a positive start to the season. The open nature of the game seemed to suit Edinburgh, who were very slick in transition with their passing. Edinburgh scored a basket with 3:40 left on the clock to retake the lead for the first time since the first quarter but St Andrews soon edged ahead thanks to Paige Onouye. The teams traded basket going into the final two minutes with it all still to play for.
Paige was at the heart of everything good that St Andrews did and she managed to pick a beautiful pass to Fiona Murray that split the Edinburgh defence and resulted in an easy basket to stretch St Andrews lead to three with only 20.2 seconds left on the clock.
Fouls are a common sight in the last minutes and seconds of a basketball game and this was no different, except these almost cost St Andrews their victory. Edinburgh were awarded a free throw with 11 seconds to go which they made, and received two more with only five seconds to go. They made the first but missed the second, which resulted in pinball around the hoop as the Edinburgh players frantically tried to score the winning basket. However, their efforts were to no avail and it was St Andrews who walked away narrow victors over their fierce rivals.
Several Edinburgh players were in tears after the game, showing how much it meant to them, but both teams played well and will know that their performances will only improve as their respective seasons go on.