Cheshire Phoenix saw their hopes of a BBL Play-Off final appearance at the O2 Arena dashed for the second year in a row as they were beaten on aggregate by league champions Leicester Riders.
Having seen off reigning champions Newcastle Eagles in the first round, Cheshire gave themselves a mountain to climb against the Riders as they were blown away 99-55 at the Cheshire Oaks Arena on Saturday night in the first leg.
The Nix, down 44 on aggregate, needed a miracle to progress to next weekend’s showpiece in London but did restore some much-needed pride as they battled their way to a 92-84 success at the LCS Arena in the second leg on Sunday night, but the Riders progressed with a 36-point aggregate advantage.
Kinu Rochford produced a monster double-double with 31 points and 18 rebounds to ensure that Cheshire bow out with their heads held high following a crushing defeat at home less than 24 hours earlier.
For the Riders, they return to compete in the season finale for the first time since 2013 as they aim to emulate their historic treble achieved that same season.
Cheshire made a fast start with pride to play for with Quincy Taylor and Rochford combining to score all of their side’s points in an early 13-10 start, despite Tyler Bernardini’s hot opening from three-point range. David Aliu connected with a triple of his own to give the visitors a six-point advantage at the end of the first quarter.
The visitors extended their lead in the second and went into the half-time break with a 46-34 lead with their overall deficit down to 32. Cheshire led by as many as 18 points in the third period, but the Riders managed to close within single figures by the end of the quarter.
The gap was down to as little as five points in the early stages of the fourth, but Cheshire restore their double digit advantage with Danny Huffor netting some big three’s on his way to 22 points.
Barry Lamble, playing in his final home game of his professional career, checked in to score four points late on before being taken out the game in the final minute for a well-deserved standing ovation.
Cheshire finished as 92-84 victors, but it’s Leicester who celebrate reaching another final as they set up a showdown with Sheffield Sharks at The O2.
The win brought the curtain down on a rollercoaster season for the Nix, who can look to next year with renewed optimism.
Match report taken from Chester Chronicle, written by Dave Powell.