A SHORTHANDED Team Solent Kestrels booked their spot in the knockout stages of the L Lynch Trophy, knocking off Worthing Thunder 96-69 to clinch top spot in Group One.

The victory makes it five wins in a row now for TSK in all competitions against their south coast counterparts, reports Jack O'Keeffe.

Andre Arissol continued his fine run of form as he got the scoring underway from the free throw line for TSK and although Cameron Hildreth converted at the other end for Thunder, it was the home town Kestrels who took the lead early on, 8-2. After an early Worthing timeout, forward Max Richardson provided some respite for his side but another Arissol lay up pushed TSK further out in front, 12-4. Hildreth set about reducing the gap to three, with a pair of foul shots and a triple and whilst the visiting side looked to have steadied the ship, it was Kestrels who led 21-16 after one.

Travis Charles pushed the lead to seven to start the second quarter, however Zaire Taylor would start to find his rhythm as he scored four straight for Thunder. Charles would kick start a 7-0 run in reply though capped off with a Luke Gosney put back to prompt the visitors second timeout of the first half, 30-20 TSK.

Hildreth and Richardson provided the scoring firepower for Worthing post timeout to trim the deficit to seven, but timely scores from Gosney and Kestrels captain Elliot Dadds kept them at bay. Arissol would turn the burners on for the big two-handed dunk before Johnathan Lashley gave TSK their biggest lead of the game at 13. Hildreth would get fouled on the half-time buzzer and made two out of three from the line, to leave the scoreline at 48-38 in favour of TSK at the break.

Thunder started the second half through their biggest scoring threat, Hildreth who connected on the difficult floater bringing them to within eight points, however that would as close as they would get the rest of the way.

A 9-0 run in response capped off by an Ian Smith lay up saw TSK take a ballooned 17 points advantage into the first timeout of the 2nd half.

Thunder’s American big man Howard Crawford and TSK new man, Orlan Jackman, traded scores out of the timeout but when Charles stroked a trademark mid range jumper, the home side were now up 20, 65-45. Richardson again provided respite for Worthing but an 11-2 run to close the quarter meant Kestrels were now firmly in the driving seat, up 78-51 with 10 minutes remaining.

The fourth saw a drastic change in pace of the game with neither team establishing a free scoring rhythm to close the game out, however that better suited Kestrels who held a 26 point lead. Crawford provided the scoring punch for Thunder but TSK would match them blow for blow, reflected in the 18 apiece fourth quarter score for both sides. Kestrels clinching a 96-69 victory to keep them unbeaten at 3-0 to start their L Lynch Trophy campaign.

TSK were led by Arissol who posted 23 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals, whilst Ian Smith added 22 points, nine assists and six rebounds and Charles chipped in 15 points on 100 per cent shooting. Worthing’s young star Hildreth had 22 points to lead them with Richardson and Taylor adding 13 and 12 respectively.

Kestrels head coach Matt Guymon said: “I’m pleased with the resilience and togetherness the players showed after a challenging week of injuries and availability issues.

"Worthing were able to cause us some problems in the first half, which I felt were a result of some lapses and lack of discipline defensively.

"I was incredibly proud of how we came out in the third on both ends of the floor, which ultimately decided the contest. These pool games have been great for us, now we look forward to getting guys back healthy and moving into league play.”

With top spot in Group One of the L Lynch Trophy wrapped up, Kestrels will now turn their attentions to their NBL Division One season opener this coming Saturday, when they welcome Essex Rebels back to the SSC (6.30pm).