LEVETT Essex Leopards recorded two tight wins to open their season.

London Lituanica were beaten 71-68 in a National Trophy game at the Brentwood Centre on Frida y before London Pride Southwar k were beaten 87-86 on the road, on Sunday.

At the Brentwood Centre, new boy Justin Hitchman was the key for Steve Ogunjimi’s team as he led the way with 21 points, eight rebounds and three steals as the Big Cats broke their hoodoo against a side who knocked them out of the National Cup twice in three years.

Captain Albert Margai finished with 16 points and seven assists, as well as drawing eight fouls from a physical Lithuanian side, wh o included former Leopard Lukas Volskis in their side.

Will Ashby added 13 points while Ladi Brown wasarebound short of a double-double with 11 points and nine boards.

The hosts scored the first seve n points of the game and led by as many as 13 in the third period, but the visitors dragged their way bac k into the game and it took seve n Ashby points together with a pair of Margai free-throws down the stretc h to seal the victory .

Two days later the Big Cats avoided what would have been the biggest upset in their history as they blew a big lead before scores from Hitchman and Tosin Oyelese clinched the win and a trip to Barking and Dagenham Thunder in the National Cup second round.

The Leopards went into the first break 28-19 ahead, the lead was cut to 54-39 at half-time, and with momentum against them a calamitous end to the third period saw the home side score twice in the final six seconds to make it 63-69 going into the final quarter .

Pride grabbed their first lead with six minutes remaining before Hitchman and Oyelese ended the hosts’ hopes of an upset.