TEAM Solent Kestrels were crowned the inaugural L Lynch Trophy champions as they beat Thames Valley Cavaliers in a closely contested final in Leicester.

Kestrels triumphed 87-78 at the Morningside Arena, writes Jack O'Keeffe.

The competition, in its first year, allowed for the return to play across NBL Division One back in October and after both sides navigated their way to the final with unbeaten records, it would make for a marquee match up in the championship game.

Thames Valley started the better of the sides as Lewis Champion scored five straight points and although Orlan Jackman scored in the paint for TSK, Cavaliers were up 2-9 when Blayne Freckleton and Taylor Johnson scored in transition.

That kicked Kestrels into gear however as a 15-0 run would follow and give TSK a 17-9 lead behind Jackman, Ian Smith and Andre Arissol. In what would prove to be a game of runs it was TVC who struck right back with a 12-2 scoring run of their own as they edged back ahead.

The period would come to a close in back and forth fashion as both teams traded scores but Travis Charles connected on a turnaround jump shot as time expired to give his side a 25-24 advantage.

The second quarter begun in the same way the first finished, with the teams exchanging blows through Ian Smith for the Kestrels and Taylor Johnson for Thames Valley.

Champion would return to the game after a brief injury scare to break the exchange, as he pushed the deficit to four in favour of the Cavaliers. That would be short lived as Kestrels used a 7-2 run including successful trips to the foul line for Jackman and Johnathan Lashley, to edge their noses in front at the the break 46-45.

TSK flew out the gate in second half as a quick 6-2 run forced an early timeout for TVC and it would only get better for the league leaders as a further 10-2 run post timeout behind Arissol, Smith and this time Okoronkwo, pushed the arrears to 13 at 62-49.

Freckleton and Johnson would not let that lead get any further out of hand and they knocked down back-to-back triples for the Cavaliers, trimming the gap to seven at the mid point of the period. The scoring dried up for both teams to close the quarter and it was only when Lashley and Arissol scored five unanswered in the closing minute, that Kestrels would restore a double-digit lead, up 69-57 with 10 minutes to play.

Kestrels turned up the defensive intensity to start the fourth and used a short 5-0 run to give themselves the biggest lead of the contest at 17. Thames Valley showed their quality though and they were certainly not done, using a 7-0 run to force coach Matt Guymon into his first timeout of the half, 74-64 with 6:26 on the clock.

Smith scored on a timely high arcing lay up before Arissol stroked a triple and Charles scored inside, as TSK replenished their lead and gave TVC it all to do with just under five minutes left.

Cavs were able to rally however and they cut the gap to 10 with 1:44 on the game clock as Bernard Hehetro threw down a dunk, prompting a Kestrels timeout to settle things down.

Charles and Johnson traded scores post timeout and even though Kai Williams trimmed the lead further to just seven, that would be as close as TVC would get as Kestrels secured the trophy.

Guymon was extremely proud of his side's performance on his return to the sideline. He said: “It was great to be able to return to the sidelines this weekend to share this moment with this amazing group of players and staff.

"This is the game that the fans of the NBL have been waiting for all year and it didn’t disappoint. After a high scoring first half I thought we were able to do a great job increasing our defensive intensity and making life difficult for their key playmakers, which ultimately allowed us to go on a number of critical runs to help secure the win.

"This was another balanced performance from our team, where our depth and unselfishness continued to shine through. We look forward to getting back to work this week and preparing for the remainder of the league schedule.”

TSK’s Arissol picked up the Finals MVP award as he poured in 24 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals whilst Charles added 19 points and Jackman had a 15 point, 12 rebound double-double. Thames Valley Cavaliers American guard Johnson had 21 points to lead them with Freckleton and Hakeem Sylla adding 16 and 15 respectively.

The sides will meet again this coming weekend as the attention shifts back to Division One in a first versus second showdown at Uxbridge College on Saturday evening.