Erks kept up the pressure on Stars and Gintaras in the Essex Met league by completing a double over old rivals Cardinals. The Erks overcame a horror first quarter, in which they only tallied four points, to keep Cardinals in range and when the shots finally started dropping for Mark Denchfield in the final quarter, the visitors were unable to respond.
In an ugly first quarter, Cardinals big man Mike Defoe was the only player to show any sort of offensive touch, as he scored his side's first six points with a variety of post moves on Erks centre Dave Churches. With shots clanging from all angles, Cardinals took an 8-4 lead, with the Cardinals' zone narrowly outperforming the Erks man to man. The Erks only baskets came from Keith Pringle and Lee Atkinson on the break.
The second quarter saw visiting point guard Molnar break free for his only baskets of the game, a pair of long bombs that vaulted Cardinals into an 18-9 lead. Erks were still hanging in there however, with Sims, Churches and Denchfield all replying with treys to close the half just 8 points behind at 17-25, the Erks having made just seven field goals in the entire half.
Things had to improve in the second half and initially it was the Pringle family who sparked the Erks comeback, Keith hitting from long range and Craig starting to wear down the veteran Tony Peltier with some strong moves around the basket. However it was the benching of Erks centre Churches that really sparked a run. Churches was struggling, his frustration with the referees being compounded by his inability to finish around the basket and Defoe scoring on him at will at the other end. He was replaced with Martin Overare's less orthodox play in the paint and Overare quickly scored a couple of off balance bank shots to justify the move. Player-coach Declan McCusker was also playing extended minutes leading the Erks defensive effort and with a much improved showing, the hosts closed to 37-38 at the end of the third quarter, the Erks smaller quicker unit starting to pick up some easy points as the forty something legs of Eric Andrew and Tony Peltier and the bad back of centre Defoe were starting to become a problem.
With the game in the balance, the suspicion was that if anybody could make a few shots, the game would be theirs. And so it proved, as Erks gunner Mark Denchfield caught fire in the fourth quarter, hitting four treys in the first five minutes to vault the Erks into a nine point lead. That proved more than enough to take the game, as the final five minutes were a scrappy affair with the odd Cardinals basket being matched by Erks free throws as the visitors were forced to foul to stop the clock, the Erks ultimately closing with a 63-51 victory to move to a 6-3 record, maintaining their push for a top 2 finish.
The league title appears out of the Erks grasp now, with Stars very much in pole position after a second victory over Gintaras on Sunday, which leaves them on 6-1 with the head to head over the Lithuanian side on 6-2. An Erks victory over Stars in their rearranged clash would at least set up a tense finish to the campaign however.
Erks: Denchfield 20, C Pringle 15, K Pringle 8, Churches 7, Overare 4, Atkinson 4, Sims 3, McCusker 2.
Cardinals: Defoe 20, Peltier 11, Baukham 7, Molnar 6, Gooden 5, Andrew 2