Ulinzi Warriors' Never Say Die spirit was on display as the soldiers recovered from 19 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Thunder 67-63 to win the 2019 National Classic Basketball League title at the Nyayo National Stadium on Saturday.
The soldiers, who went into Game Four leading 2-1, were starring at the risk of going into the closeout Game Five after finding themselves 35-50, 40-60 and 41-60 down deep in the third quarter before staging a stunning comeback in a dramatic encounter to seal the series 3-1.
Ulinzi had to come from behind to tie the series 1-1 after losing Game One 73-75 to Thunder, and were stronger in Game Three.
Thunder, who were seeking their first title, were looking to lock the series 2-2 after leading by 19 points, the scores reading 60-41 in the fourth quarter.
Thunder had enjoyed a 44-27 lead at the break, Ulinzi having trailed 23-13 in first quarter and 13-21 in the second quarter.
Thunder’s forward Faheem Juma proved a headache to Ulinzi, scoring game-high 28 points, 20 of them in first quarter.
Thunder, who lost Game Three 99-51 on Friday night, struggled to mount a successful defence as Ulinzi charged to 9-0 run at the beginning of the last quarter.
Ulinzi’s shooting guard Eric Mutoro was on fire as his team rallied from behind 75-73 in Game One to tie the series 1-1 with a 123-106 victory in Game Two on Thursday.
Ulinzi, who trailed by more than 17 points throughout the third quarter, led 62-61 through aggressive play by forward John Washika.
With just one minute and 56 seconds left in the match, Byron Mabonga hit the last nail in Thunder’s coffin as the soldiers again took the lead at 65-63. Both teams had tied 63-63 in the dying minute.
Washika was on fire, sinking the winning basket for a 67-63 score line.
Ulinzi coach William Balozi said: “I instructed my players in the fourth quarter that we must Game Four to reclaim the title and they complied. I thank the team for the fighting spirit the polayers have shown.” Ulinzi’s team manager Stephen Bartilol was elated by the victory.
“Its my first title as the manager which has been dedicated to me by the players.”
Ulinzi captain Victor Bosire said: “Our only secret in the game was to improve our defence in the fourth quarter, which we did well to win.”
Thunder coach Collins Gaya said: “We performed poorly in the match and lost to our opponents. I congratulate them (Ulinzi).”
Forward James Mwangi and guard Victor Bosire each scored 12 for Ulinzi and Washika added another 13 points.