Renu Mourya collected a side-throw and sunk a two-pointer to give Maharashtra a nail-biting 71-70 victory over South East Central Railway (Bilaspur) and a place in the women’s final of the 27th Federation Cup basketball championship here at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium on Saturday.
While there is no denying the Maharashtra girls’ pugnacity and poise, it seemed like it was the tactical time-out call by coach Abdul Hameed ‘Babu’ with barely 10 seconds for the final hooter and a pep talk that seemed decisive in powering his team past the finish line.
Manisha Dange was once again the scoring machine that she has been in this tournament, and with Smruthi Radhakrishnan and Anamika in full flow, Maharashtra enjoyed the lead in all the three quarters, going into the final 10 minutes.
However, with Bharati Netam and the Seema Singh coming up with a flurry of points and M. Pushpa delivering a couple of long rangers, it was the Railway side that enjoyed a slender lead going into the final minute.
When on the offensive, Maharashtra earned a side throw and that was when Babu called for a time-out for a word of encouragement before the final assault.
When play resumed, the small-made Mourya, who had been her chirpy self till then, flicked the shot in from just inside the left 45-angle, triggering off wild celebrations even before the ball had sunk in. It was probably the most crucial basket of her career.
Meanwhile Tamil Nadu overwhelmed Kerala 75-55 in the other semifinal, which was a far cry from the thriller the first had turned out to be.
Anitha brought in all her international experience into play in the third and fourth quarters, and with ample support coming from Adhirai and Anbu, Tamil Nadu coasted into the final.
Stephy Nixon looked painstakingly slow for Kerala and it was left to Jina and Surya to carry the fight into the rivals which never came about.
In the men’s semifinals, ONGC turned the tables on last year’s champion Punjab Police with a come-from-behind 75-65 victory.
The second semifinal saw Indian Overseas Bank (Chennai) ground high-flying IAF with some clinical basketball to win 86-60. IAF failed to get its long-rangers on target and often fumbled in the drive-ins to lose possession. With Reikin Pethani and Pratham Singh coming good, IOB was able to dent the IAF defence to race through to a comfortable victory.
Slow off the blocks, ONGC failed to stop the marauding Punjab Policemen in the first two quarters.
But once the well-tuned Vishesh Bruguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh clicked, ONGC was well on course to victory.
Bruguvanshi drove in with purpose and stopped short of the ‘key’ to pump in shots at will and also assisted in some crucial rebounds while Yadwinder and even Mohit Bhandari did a remarkable job under the boards.
Late on Friday night, Punjab Police edged Central Excise & Customs, Kochi 63-61 to clinch the last semifinal spot.
The results: Semifinals: Men: ONGC 75 (Vishesh Bruguvanshi 26, Yadwinder Singh 17, Mohit Bhandari 11) bt Punjab Police 65 (Amritpal Singh 19, Palpreeth Singh 17, Harminder Singh 11, Amtrinder Singh 10).
IOB 86 (Reikin Pethani 23, Sivabalan 13, Vineet Matthew 11, Abhilek Paul 10) bt Indian Air Force 60 (Narendar Grewal 18, Shivaj Singh 13).
League: IAF 73 (Ashutosh Rai 15, Eby Jose 12, Shijoy Thomas 11, Siddarth Bharadwaj 11, Surinder Singh 10) bt Captains Club, Delhi 41 (Sachin Sharma 16).
Punjab Police 63 (Ranbir Singh 20, Palpreeth Singh 15, Amrithpal Singh 13) bt CE, Kochi 61 (Manoj 17, Basil Philip 16, E. Pereira 15).
Women: Semifinals: Maharashtra 71 (Manisha Dange 24, Shireen Limaye 16, Renu Mourya 13, Anamika Rai 10) bt SEC Railway 70 (Seema Singh 32, M. Pushpa 18, N. Bharti 13).
Tamil Nadu 75 (P. Anitha 35, M. Adhirai 12, Alagu Tamilmozhi 12) bt Kerala 55 (P.S. Jina 22, P.R. Surya 11).