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Watch: Abela’s Otero win Region IX Championship

Sophie Abela (fourth-left from bottom) celebrates winning the Region IX Tournament with her teammates.

Sophie Abela becomes the first Maltese basketball player to win a postseason tournament in the US as the Otero Rattlers won the 2021 Region IX Tournament on Saturday. The championship game against Casper College ended in an 89-94 overtime win.

OJC had Leah Mafua put up a season-high 29 points, with Emma Flores Pasqual adding another 28. Abela scored one of one for two points, assisting two makes, grabbing one board and making a steal.

Sophie Abela scores a layup in the Championship game against Casper College. Video: Otero Junior College

The Rattlers started slow as Casper went on a 14-8 run in the opening minutes, but OJC buckled down to take the first quarter 23-20. From then on, it was a balanced affair with Abela scoring her layup in the second quarter which put the Rattlers up by eight.

 The third and fourth quarter became a tough contest but it was Casper who looked likely to see the game through, leading 75-77 with 30 seconds remaining. However, with only 11 seconds to go, Otero’s Krystina Hagood hit a fantastic shot from three to send the game into overtime.

While close, the Rattlers took control of overtime to take the game and the championship on their home court.

OJC had gotten home court advantage after taking top seed with a 17-3 record in the regular season, meaning they would host the tournament.

Watch the full game here…

This makes Abela the first Malta international to achieve such a feat, with guard Kristy Galea also reaching the postseason with the Alderson Broaddus Battlers in the NCAA Division Two but falling short in their game against eventual champions Charleston. 

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