BRAVE Bradford Dragons kept National Division One champions Essex Leopards close but not close enough in their play-off quarter-final, losing 82-76 at Brentwood.

The Dragons, who finished the regular season in eighth position, travelled looking to upset the odds against a team seeking the double who had already won both league encounters between the clubs.

The visitors understandably made a slow start after such a long journey but they revived to only trail 18-15 at the end of the first quarter.

They carried on the good work to knock the spots off the Leopards in the second quarter by establishing an eight-point lead, only for the hosts to hit back and lead 39-38 at half-time.

By the end of the third quarter, however, the visitors led 60-57 and with five minutes left could still dream of an upset as they were 70-68 in front. But the Leopards showed championship form in the final three minutes to kill off the contest.

Nevertheless, the Dragons can hold their heads high going into the long summer break, ready to come back refreshed in September.

American point guard Jeremee (JP) Davis headed the scoring for Bradford with 23 points, followed by Rihards Sulcs (15) and Miguel Lorenzo (13).

Dragons head coach Chris Mellor said: "It was a game where neither team got in front by more than eight points at any stage but ultimately it came down to them hitting some big shots at the end.

"It's a disappointing way to end the season but we gave it our best shot."

Essex join Derby Trailblazers, Kent Crusaders and Manchester Magic in the final-four finale to held in Sheffield this weekend.

Elsewhere, the Dragons' under-16s lost 74-65 in their play-off second-round game against Northern Conference winners Newcastle Eagles, who remain unbeaten.

Bradford junior coach Dan Tordoff said: "A terrible third quarter cost us the game. We lacked defensive intensity and lost the rebound battle during that period.

"We stepped things up in the fourth quarter and showed what we are capable of but by that time the game was already out of reach.

"It was a very disappointing result as we have had such a great season."

There was better news for the under-14s, who faced visitors Northants Thunder in the first round of their play-off campaign and progressed to the quarter-finals with an 82-62 victory.

Tordoff said: "It was a competitive game throughout, with Thunder finally wilting under the pressure that we applied at both ends of the court.

"The lads put in a great team performance, showing improvement to take into the next round."

Bradford are at Worthing Thunder in this weekend's last eight.