The anticipation ahead of the opening Netball Superleague semi-final reached fever pitch on Sunday evening and the action certainly matched the hype. Team Bath eventually wore down reigning champions Manchester Thunder to book their place in the Grand Final with a 53-43 victory.
Jess Thirlby named an unchanged side from the last game of the regular season when they comprehensively saw off the challenge of Surrey Storm. Tracey Neville made one change from the side she fielded in the Play-Off eliminator as Beth Cobden came in for Sara Bayman, with the England vice-captain only available for the bench.
The hosts had the better of the early play as they were able to draw clear in the first quarter, largely thanks to the impressive defensive combination of Sam Cook and Stacey Francis. After the opening exchanges Bath were 14-9 ahead.
With an early deficit to overcome, Bayman was forced into action for the second quarter. The tactic worked brilliantly as Thunder started to shore up in defence and were able to draw the scores level midway through the quarter. However, a late trio of misses from Aussie shooter Janelle Lawson handed the initiative back to the home side. At the interval the girls in blue and yellow had edged into a 25-22 lead.
A tentative start to the second half saw the shooters from both sides dominate proceedings and keep the score line tight. It was a pivotal moment in the match and the time in which Bath the moved through the gears to pulls seven goals clear and for the first time in the encounter, put some clear distance between themselves and Thunder.
It was a passionate display on court with a lot of contest being allowed from the umpires as bodies crashed to the floor, showing just how much this meant to each team. This passion and intensity was matched by the raucous crowd packed into the Sports Training Village. At the end of the third quarter, Bath had moved into a 39-31 advantage.
With the lead remaining comfortable, Bath were unchanged once more while Neville utilised her bench in attempt to give Thunder the impetus to fight back. Alice Travis, Eleanor Cardwell and Rachel Henry all took to the court knowing that they were potentially fifteen minutes away from relinquishing their crown.
Spurred on by captain Bayman barking her orders from the mid-court, the visiting side were in determined spirit to reduce arrears from the first whistle. Unfortunately for the noisy travelling support, Cook hadn’t read the script. The Bath defender was reading the lofted feed through to Lawson and was forcing the turnovers.
Although 16 year-old Travis was looking composed in the circle, an encouraging sight for those in black and yellow, Thunder were struggling to penetrate the Bath defence with enough regularity to cause a shocking comeback. Bath were able to hold firm and continue to tick the scoreboard over as England duo Kadeen Corbin and Pamela Cookey capitalised on the growing space in the opposition defence.
The final whistle sounded to end Thunder’s reign with the title, Bath move on to Worcester for the showpiece match next week against the winner of the Celtic Dragons versus Surrey Storm semi-final. In a fantastic show of sportsmanship both sides congratulated each other at the end of the match with genuine compassion in a true show of ‘what happens on court, stays on court’.
The opening semi-final of the 2013 Netball Superleague was full of passion, intensity and desire; all eyes turns to Cardiff tomorrow as we hope for a repeat.
Team Bath starting 7: GS - Corbin, GA - Cookey, WA – A. Francis, C - Ritchie, WD - Guthrie, GD – S. Francis, GK – Cook
On the bench: Trounce, Masterson, Craig, Parsons, Stewart
Thunder starting 7: GS - Lawson, GA - Turner, WA - Henry, C - Malcolm, WD - Cobden, GD - Dovey, GK – Almond
On the bench: Bayman, Holt, Travis, Cardwell, Enziano
Umpires: Gary Burgess and Tracy Smith with Sarah Watts as reserve
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