By Wallis Wilkin

For The Observer

With the start of the local basketball season, Birdrock Uprisers and the Lady Devils are already champions.

The 2006 SKABA Junior and Female leagues got off to an exciting start on Sunday when teams in both divisions took part in the opening night league knockout tournament.

The Female knockout saw the SKABA Female League defending champion, Lady Blue Devils and the new and exciting St. Pauls Lady Tuff Knots squaring off in the female knockout finals.

The match was very keenly contested. However, Amanda French, who has played forward on the national team, carried the Lady Devils to victory.

French was a dominating presence both on the offensive and defensive end.

After a relatively slow start — which saw them trailing the Lady Knots 12-10 at the end of the first half — Devil’s Leondra Cotton, who is the Female League MVP, took control of the game in the second half. Cottons eight points in the second half, was enough to give the Lady Devils the vistory, with a score of 28-22.

Birdrock, which had never won a championship before, played sloppy in the first game against Blue Devils. However with a national junior star forward and slam dunk champion William Natta on the team, Birdrock was able to get past Blue Devils.

Last year Natta — along with two other highly talented young big men — was transferred at the 11th hour from Newtown’s junior team to Birdrock to join national junior guard Dane Rawlins.

Newtown does not have a junior team in the league this year.

These transfers essentially shifted the balance of power from Hitters and St.Pauls to Birdrock who went from underdogs to championship favorites due to these transfer.

The opening game saw the Blue Devils taking on Bird Rock in what turned out to be a surprisingly close game.

Led by Eustus Hanley who had an exciting 18 points the Blue Devils played there heart out as they matched the overpowering dominance of Birdrock with a plethora of jump shots.

Birdrock however held on to win the opening match 29-28.

Dane Rawlins led Birdrock with 16 points.

The second match featured rivals Hitters and the St. Pauls Tuff Knots. The Hitters had a very long bench, however that was not enough to overcome the raw talent of the St. Pauls Tuff Knots.

Hitters lost there opening game 17-16 .

The Trotters were seemingly in over there heads as the Sandy Point Falcons kept the Trotters to just nine points.

The falcons won easily 29-9.

The next round saw Bird Rock playing Cayon.

St. Pauls were forced to forfeit their second round game thus opening the door for a Sandy Point vs Bird Rock Uprisers finals.

Rawlins had an exceptional game as he accounted for half of his teams points with 15.

The teams exchanged shots right down to the final whistle where the Uprisers were able to hold off a spirited effort from the Sandy Point team.

The final score saw Bird Rock winning the knockout championship with 30-25 finals victory over Sandy Point.