Team Bath are through to netball superleague final
Team Bath’s hopes of a fifth netballsuperleague title in eight attempts are very much on track after they beat Manchester Thunder 53-43 at the University of Bath’s Sports Training Village this evening.
The home side’s third-quarter 19 goals for only nine replies proved crucial to the win against the defending champions.
Team Bath were dominant initially but thenslipped to a fragile 25-22 lead at half-time.
“We had a good start but then they came back at us and we knew they wouldn’t give up”, said Team Bath captain Asha Francis. “I am very proud of all the girls. The team talk that the coaches Jess (Thirlby), Billy (Bowers) and Denise (Ellis) gave us at half-time really put us back in the right direction”.
In the opening quarter Team Bath positively galloped to an 8-2 lead, assisted by two sizzling long-range scores from Kadeen Corbin at goal-shooter and a steady strike rate from goal-attack Pamela Cookey.
Thunder stopped the rot with a couple of long balls into Janelle Lawson, their tall goal-shooter, to pull back to 8-4. At10-5 to Bath, a rare Corbin miss set Thunder off onto a trio of goals.
The home side pulled away again with some fast-paced passing and great feeding into the circle to lead 14-9 at the interval.
Thunder brought captain and ex-Team Bath stalwart Sara Bayman off the bench at wing-defence in the second quarter.
Penalised multiple times for “contact”, a clearly rattled Team Bath were caught at 16-16. A goal-for-goal scrap ensued and Team Bath coach Thirlby called a time-out to settle her players.
Both sides produced some fabulous turn-overs in defence with Team Bath’s Sam Cook and England goal-defence Stacey Francis obliging at two crucial points when Bath were leading 20-19 and 22-20.
Pace in the mid-court, especially from England players Bayman and Serena Guthrie, at wing defence, continued to be frenetic. The two centres Mia Ritchie for Bath and Laura Malcolm for the visitors tangled and tumbled twice as did Bayman and Francis.
Bath took a narrow but important 25-22 lead off court at half-time. When they returned, Thirlby moved Guthrie to centre and Ritchie to wing-defence. “I think that made a difference by giving us more options in attack and some composure and leadership up there”, said Thirlby.
To the untrained eye it certainly worked as Bath stretched out their lead from 30-27, seven minutes gone in the third quarter, to 36-28 with three minutes to go to the interval which they reached 39-31 ahead.
Thunder coach Tracey Neville took a radical approach to the final quarter bringing Alice Travis on at goal-shooter and Emily Cardwell at goal-defence as one of seven changes which included moving Bayman from wing-defence to centre against Bath’s Guthrie.
“I am pleased with our defensive form this evening”, said Thirlby who watched as goal-keeper Cook made multiple interceptions to help the home team take a 10 point lead and then defend it in the final quarter.
At the other end the physicality of the encounter was epitomized when Cardwell did a fair impression of Bambi in hobnail boots to stamp on Cookey’s feet twice in the final quarter as well as knocking her to the ground three times.
“We knew it was going to be tough physically. We knew at half-time that we had to come out and weather that and we did exactly that in the third quarter”, said Thirlby.
Neither Thirlby nor Asha Francis would be drawn on who Team Bath would prefer to play in the final next weekend (Saturday 25 May at Worcester Arena at 7.30pm). The opposing semi-final is tomorrow night with Surrey Storm facing Celtic Dragons.
“If we want to win the title we have to beat whoever turns up”, said Francis.
Thirlby added: “If it’s Celtic Dragons it will be the motivation of unfinished business, if it’s Surrey Storm it will be a case of riding on confidence from our last win when we played our best netball of the season so far”.