A Stewartry basketball team have been blazing a trail for themselves this season.
Kirkcudbright Academy’s senior side The Blazers, who are the reigning Dumfries and Galloway Basketball School Champions, have become the most successful team in the school’s history by winning their National Schools Basketball Scottish Cup qualification group to progress to the knock-out stages.
The season began with a match-up against their local rivals Dumfries Academy but the Blazers were full of confidence as they had beaten them 51-29 in the previous year’s championship final.
That set the scene for another tough game on Dumfries Academy’s home court, with the added pressure being this would probably decide who would go through to the knock-out stages.
Any pre-match nerves were proven to be misguided as The Blazers took control of the game from the start and dominated a young but enthusiastic Dumfries team who had lost a few of their star players at the end of the previous season.
Strong performances by all members of the starting five – captain Gregory MacMillan, Marcus MacMillan, Bonar Robb, Gary Chadband and Maxim Jackson – ensured that the game was over as a true competition by the end of the first quarter. The game was played out in a sporting manner with the score ending 46-19 in The Blazers’ favour.
That meant a win in the Blazers’ next match would put them through to the knock-out rounds for the first time.
Their most important match to date was at home against the unknown entity of Irvine’s Greenwood Academy. News of the convincing win over Dumfries and the importance of the match ensured a capacity crowd to cheer on the local team.
Coach Grounsell sent out his strongest starting five to match up against the Irvine team and set up a full court press that put the Greenwood guards under extreme pressure.
There was a tense atmosphere but 6’4” power forward and emerging power house Maxim Jackson got The Blazers off and running with a nice outside shot and went on to score a strong eight points in the first quarter.
With Marcus and Gregory MacMillan spearheading the full court press, they stole the ball repeatedly and along with flying forward Gary Chadband, took the score to a pleasantly surprising 32-0 after the first quarter.
The crowd had played their part by raising the roof, but they now relaxed knowing that only a major disaster would stop The Blazers from progressing.
Coach Grounsell had instructed the players to lower the intensity of their play, as a sporting gesture towards a less experienced Greenwood squad, but the crowd still enjoyed some strong performances. 6’5” power forward Bonar Robb dominated below the basket along with his sparring partner 6’7” centre Johnny Wilde, whose rebounding strength was unstoppable.
This, along with some hard work and a good team effort by David Maxwell, Jack Finlay and Conor Beattie eased the team to a 57-4 lead at half time.
Some strong outside shooting from the perimeter from the forwards added to the driving lay-ups from the MacMillan brothers, which included a dunk from the captain and some valuable points from Jack Finlay and David Maxwell, led The Blazers to a convincing win of 100-13.
The Blazers now face the more challenging knock out stages of the Scottish Cup, which will see them come up against national league players and Scotland internationalists.
The first hurdle is Williamwood High School from Glasgow today in Kirkcudbright Academy.
The game will tip off at approximately 4pm and anyone wanting to see the game should go early as it’s likely to be standing room only.
Whatever the outcome of this game, all players, volunteers and supporters have been good ambassadors for the school and Dumfries and Galloway.
Kirkcudbright Blazers players (scorers) against Greenwood Academy: Gregor MacMillan, captain (32 points); Marcus MacMillan (19 points); Maxim Jackson (12 points); Bonar Robb (10 points); Johnny Wilde (10 points); Jack Finlay (seven points); Gary Chadband (six points); David Maxwell (four points); Conor Beattie.
Kirkcudbright Academy guard Marcus MacMillan has also had success in the U16 (club) Scottish Cup where he has made the final with his national league club team Ayrshire Tornadoes.
The final will be played at the Lagoon Sports Centre in Paisley on February 2 as part of Basketball Scotland’s Scottish Cup Finals Weekend.
Fourth year pupil Marcus said: “I’m really looking forward to both Scottish Cup ties with the Tornadoes and my school and hope we do well.”