OLIVER RUDZINSKI COMES THROUGH IN THE CLUTCH TO LIFT PANTHERS TO 16U D2 GLORY
In a captivating culmination to the Development League season that went right down to the wire, the Brent Panthers managed to eke out a hard-fought 35-34 victory over their cross-town rivals, the Enfield Scorpions, in the CBL 16U Division 2 Playoff Finals.
The Panthers’ 16U D2 team showcased their cohesion and ongoing improvement throughout an impressive season, securing their third D2 championship of the day after earlier victories in the 12U and 14U divisions.
From the get-go, it was evident that this game would be a roller-coaster ride. Brent’s newcomer, Brandon Mulcahy-Solis, wasted no time in making his presence felt, igniting his team with a flurry of quick buckets in the opening quarter. His scoring prowess helped the Panthers establish an early 5-point lead, setting the tone for an intense battle.
However, Enfield’s Teddy Lee was not one to be outdone. The Scorpions’ vastly improved guard exhibited a refined arsenal of dribble drive pull-ups that kept his team in contention throughout the afternoon. With his smooth offensive moves, Lee hinted that Enfield might have something special up their sleeves.
Brent’s strategic advantage came in the form of utilising their 2 National League player allowance. Veteran and crafty point guard, Axel Thibault, provided stability and experience to the squad, while the towering 6’5 wing, Oliver Rudzinski, proved to be a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor.
As the clock wound down and the tension mounted, it was Rudzinski who emerged as the game’s ultimate game-changer. With ‘ice water’ in his veins, he calmly knocked down a crucial late-game three-pointer in the fourth quarter, sending bolts of excitement through the crowd. As the late game focal point of attack for the Panthers, Rudzinki’s ‘hard to guard’ winding drives to the basket were too much for the Scorpions defence who were forced to foul to prevent him from extending the Panther lead. However, the emerging young star was also clutch from the free-throw line, nailing 2 crucial free-throws to extend Brent’s lead to five, making it a 2 possession game and insulating the Panthers from any possible ‘come back’ from the Scorpions in the dying moments.
Enfield’s Cesar Canrio reminded why the Rudzinkski free-throws were needed as he successfully connected on one last act of defiance, burying a heroic three-pointer in the last 10 seconds of the game, keeping the Scorpions’ hopes barely alive and fans on both sides holding their breath.
However, in the end, it was too little too late as the Brent Panthers managed to hold onto their 1 point lead, with Rudzinski’s game-high 18 points serving as the catalyst for their narrow victory. Plaudits were shared amongst both teams in recognition of great competition, played the right way, but ultimately this was Brent Panthers day as they rightly took home the 16U D2 crown.
The hard-fought win cemented the Panthers’ place as worthy champions, capping off a day of multiple successes for the North West London based basketball club who achieved a 'clean sweep' across the CBL Division 2 ranks winning the 12U, 14U and 16U titles.