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Raiders in bid for big Bison scalp to complete set and seal place at finals weekend

PUBLISHED: 14:30 23 March 2018

JJ Pitchley faces off with Bracknell's James Galazzi as Julian Smith looks on (pic John Scott)

JJ Pitchley faces off with Bracknell's James Galazzi as Julian Smith looks on (pic John Scott)

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Raiders forward JJ Pitchley says the team have plenty of incentive to upset Basingstoke in the National League play-off semi-finals this weekend.

Raiders celebrate a goal against Bracknell (pic John Scott)Raiders celebrate a goal against Bracknell (pic John Scott)

The two sides meet in the first leg at Romford’s Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre on Saturday (5.15pm), with the return in Hampshire the following night.

And, after eliminating Bracknell last weekend, Raiders will have to break new ground against the Bison.

The 24-year-old Pitchley was on target in Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Bees and said: “It was a great feeling to advance to the semi-finals, especially to get two wins against Bracknell, and being the only original NIHL team to advance is a great feeling too.

“And with that comes the last hurdle to get to Coventry. A goal that we have now set after achieving all of our goals for the regular season.”

The Division One South finalists will face their Division One North counterparts on the showpiece finals weekend at Coventry Skydome on April 7-8.

Peterborough and Swindon meet in the other semi-final, but Raiders face a significant hurdle in regular season champions Basingstoke, having lost all four meetings with them to date.

A 7-1 loss in October came after goalie Euan King was injured and captain Tom Davis took over, conceding three late goals.

Shut out 6-0 in Basingstoke a month later, Raiders saw Alan Lack score in a 4-1 home loss at Lee Valley in late January.

And Brandon Ayliffe’s goal looked set to give them a win at the Sapphire last month, before Bison netted twice in the last four minutes for a 2-1 victory.

So results have improved each time and Pitchley added: “It is going to be the toughest weekend of the season for sure. The league champions and a very, very skillful, well-drilled team.

“Then again we have caused some serious upsets and taken teams the distance so there’s nothing to take away from us. They are the only team we haven’t beaten and to do so and advance to Coventry will be the best ending to our first rebuilding season and will show the UK hockey is back in Romford!

“Thank you to all of the gold and blue army for the weekend’s support. Sunday was like being back at Rom Valley Way again, the noise was absolutely phenomenal. Let’s go again this weekend and then in Coventry!”

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