THREE classic Victorian Netball League preliminary finals delivered some of the closest and most exciting action of the season, including a Division 1 belter that went into overtime.
SOUTHERN Saints have earned themselves a shot at the club’s first Victorian Netball League Championship division title after upsetting Boroondara Genesis in the preliminary final.
Saints, who won the last six games of the season to finish third on the Championship ladder, beat Peninsula Waves comprehensively last week and carried that hot form into Wednesday’s elimination clash against Genesis, who welcomed back defender Joanna Weston and goaler Erin Hoare from the victorious Melbourne Vixens.
A barnstorming first half, in which Saints led by as many as 13 goals, paved the way for the 48-42 victory that put them into the season decider against undefeated City West Falcons.
Aided by the addition of their own Vixen, Amy Steel, and outstanding shooting under pressure from Elizabeth Nicol (29 goals from 30 attempts) Saints fired at both ends of the court in the first quarter to open up a 15-9 lead.
Genesis moved Weston back to goal keeper and made changes in the centre court in the second quarter in a bid to turn the game around, but they managed just six goals and fell a further four goals behind to trail 25-15.
The match appeared to be Saints’ for the keeping early in the third quarter as they extended their advantage to 13 goals, before Genesis cut the margin to eight inside the last minute, only to have Saints shoot another with less than 15 seconds remaining to push the score to 38-29.
A unlikely comeback was on the cards as Boroondara finally found a combination that worked in the fourth quarter and began picking out goal shooter Hoare (25 from 29) with ease. They slowly ate into Saints’ lead, and when Genesis wing defence Christie Hillberg pulled in an intercept with 11 minutes to go, the margin was just six goals.
Amy Wirth, who was outstanding all game for Saints at goal keeper, quickly grabbed a soaring intercept of her own to reestablish an eight-goal lead, but two crucial turnovers from her teammates in attack and some swift end-to-end play saw Genesis slash the gap to four.
Genesis goal attack Ashlee Howard, who worked tirelessly and missed just three of her 15 goals for the game, had a shot miss the mark from long range when her team had the chance to get within three goals, and another from a similar distance moments later as Saints again began to move clear with four minutes to go.
From there, Saints were able to maintain enough possession to ensure they didn’t let this one slip.
They’ll now play Falcons with a degree of confidence, having lost by just five goals the last time they met in Round 12.
CHAMPIONSHIP GRAND FINAL
City West Falcons vs Southern Saints
9.00pm, Court 1
A TIED scoreline for most of the match, a missed shot on the final whistle and an overtime battle for the chance to play off in a grand final – the Victorian Netball League preliminary final between Geelong Cougars and Southern Saints had everything.
Saints eventually emerged victorious, 60-57, but needed an extra quarter to do it as they played out one of the most gripping VNL games in the competition’s history.
Cougars, whose shooters Ruby Horton (44 from 45) and Simone Hickman (13 from 15) missed just three goals between them for the entire game, had the better of the early running and led 10-7 at quarter-time, but Saints hit back with 15 goals in the second quarter to level the scores at 22-22.
Saints looked like breaking the game open halfway through the third quarter as they sent through five unanswered goals to lead 32-27, prompting Geelong to call an injury timeout that had the intended effect, with Cougars regrouping to reduce the margin to one goal, 34-33, at three-quarter time.
The teams traded goals throughout the fourth quarter, with neither team able to break clear. Saints ramped up the pressure to force a turnover that would have given them a two-goal lead with four minutes to go, but they threw it away and allowed Geelong to even things up once again. Neither team would yield in the closing minutes in a remarkable display of pressure netball, particularly from young Saints goal shooter Chloe Curran, who netted 11 goals and missed just one for the quarter.
Geelong tied the scores one last time with 30 seconds remaining, giving Saints the centre pass and a chance to win the game. Saints wisely maintained possession and waited for their opportunity in the final few seconds, picking out goal attack Georgina Cuthbertson who fired off a quick shot that bobbled out just as the whistle went, leaving the teams deadlocked at 47-47 and facing 14 minutes of overtime.
Determined not to let the near miss deter them, Saints found another gear in the early minutes of overtime and quickly took a four-goal lead. But Cougars wing defence Jessica Leader was ready when a floated Saints pass presented an opportunity a minute later and she pounced on an intercept that helped her team to reduce the margin to one.
Curran had a chance to restore Saints’ two-goal advantage just before the teams changed ends after seven minutes, but missed from under the post and ran out of time to shoot after pulling in the rebound.
Geelong had the first centre pass after the changeover but squandered it, with Saints wing defence Aila Pera getting a tip that allowed Saints to score and again lead by two. The teams traded turnovers at the death, with Geelong closing within a goal but costing themselves with a pass that came up short in the goal circle and allowed Curran to score at the other end for a two-goal lead.
In a fitting finish, Cuthbertson shot the last goal of the game on the final whistle.
Saints will now take on City West Falcons, who beat them 52-43 in the semi-final and watched the thrilling conclusion to the preliminary final from the sidelines after fine-tuning their grand final preparations with matchplay against the Victorian Fury and Flames.
DIVISION 1 GRAND FINAL
City West Falcons vs Southern Saints
Court 2, 7.00pm
19 AND UNDER
CITY West Falcons are through to yet another Victorian Netball League 19 and Under grand final after beating Geelong Cougars in one of the matches of the year.
The lead changed many times in an enthralling preliminary final between two teams that finished second and third on the ladder, with Falcons hanging on in the final minutes of the game to win 39-37. Geelong had their chances, having led at both quarter-time and three-quarter time in a match in which the were rarely separated by more than two or three goals.
Cougars rode a perfect opening quarter from goalers Allie Smith and Mary Waldron to establish an early three-goal lead, with the pair shooting 13 from 13 in a blistering start. But City West found their own radar in the second quarter as Kayla Mallett, Bridget O’Halloran and Amelia Brock netted 12 from 12 to erase the deficit and take a two-goal lead of their own into half-time.
The momentum shifted again in the third quarter as Cougars goal keeper Brooke Allan began to exert her influence, while Falcons struggled to find a path to Mallett. They re-introduced Brock, who scored two quick goals but missed one in the last second of the quarter that would have reduced Cougars’ lead to one goal, and she swatted the ball away in frustration.
Falcons coach Marg Lind didn’t mince words at the three-quarter time break, calling on her team to lift and ordering her defensive line to bury their frustrations if they wanted to win. Both teams had opportunities to forge ahead in a final quarter packed with tension, but Falcons’ pressure began to tell as they leveled the scores and then took the lead.
Waldron and Smith didn’t miss a goal in the last 15 minutes but were starved of opportunities as Falcons’ defensive pair Bess Schnioffsky and Victoria Honner put the clamps on, consistently forcing their opponents towards the edge of the circle and restricting them to just six shots.
Cougars made several late charges but each time were answered with another Falcons goal as the defending 19 and Under champions hung on gave themselves a shot at another VNL under-age title.
Falcons will now take on minor premiers and their semi-final conquerors Monash University Storm.
19 AND UNDER GRAND FINAL
Monash University Storm vs City West Falcons
7pm, Court 1