Celebrating captain Gabi Simpson’s 100th national league game called for a fairytale ending and the purple army crossed fingers and toes the team would bring home a long overdue win to honour their fearless leader. If the game had been just one minute longer, that might very well have happened.
The Firebirds waited until the final 41 seconds to produce the most gripping and brilliant netball of the match and, unfortunately, 41 seconds wasn’t quite enough to smash the Lightning’s five goal lead, as they fell short of a win by just two heartbreaking points, when they went down to the Lightning, 64 to 66 at the QSNC today.
With 41 seconds left on the clock, the score was 66 to 61 in favour of the Lightning. Erin Burger’s centre pass went backwards to Gabi Simpson, who then launched it like a rocket all the way down to a solo Aiken, standing alone under the goal ring. Aiken effortlessly goaled, shrinking the five-goal deficit to just four, 66-62 to the Lightning.
32 seconds left with a Lightning centre and Langman sends it wide to Scherian who lobs it across court. Out of nowhere Jemma Mi Mi swoops in for one of the most spectacular intercepts of the match. A half dozen quick short passes later and a scuffle breaks out in the circle as defenders and attackers jostle for the ball before the whistle blows and Tippett takes the free shot, sinking it easily.
The Lightning lead is eroded to just three points with 11 seconds left on the clock.
It’s a Firebirds centre pass and Gardner wastes no time – flick to Tippett who pops it to Aiken who scores to bring the Birdies within two points of their rivals. They have the momentum and have scored eight out of the last 10 goals. Victory is withing reach!
But the buzzer blows and the full time score is 66 to 64 to the Lightning, denying Simpson the fairy tale result she deserved on her 100th game.
Drilling down, a few things stand out. Turnovers were an issue in the first quarter for the Firebirds as they racked up nine, which allowed the Lightning to edge away beyond reach. And the Firebirds didn’t really have an answer for the Lightning’s precision attack, particularly Wood’s (26/29) long-range bombs.
But even though the result is heartbreaking for the purple army, there are plenty of positives to come from today’s match.
Macy Gardner made a smashing debut, running onto the court in the last quarter to match up against Laura Langman and absolutely owning it. She played very poised, smart netball and is a promising player to watch.
Aiken (30/32) came on in the second quarter, replacing Lenize Potgieter (4/5) and is back to her dominant best.
Aiken’s return means the dynamic duo, Aiken and Tippett (30/31), are back together again and even after such a lengthy break for the World Cup, both delivered some brilliant plays, working seamlessly together. Tippett worked the circle like a champion and they seemed to both know where the other was without even looking.
In her post-match interview Simpson agreed the Firebirds needed to unleash their toughness earlier in the match but she always thought a win was on the cards.
“Absolutely, I believed we could win. No gap is too big. That’s the Firebirds way,” she said.
“We addressed that [lack of aggressiveness] at half time. Pretty much we said nice girls aren’t going to win games. It’s as simple as that. We needed to step out and show our mongrel,” she said.
Lorna Jane Queensland Firebirds 64 v Sunshine Coast Lightning 66
Q1: Firebirds 13 v Lightning 18
Q2: Firebirds 16 v Lightning 18
Q3: Firebirds 16 v Lightning 16
Q4: Firebirds 19 v Lightning 14
Nissan Player of the Match: Cara Koenen (Lightning)
Firebirds shooting statistics: 64/68 (94.1%)
Romelda Aiken: 30/32 (93.8%)
Gretel Tippett: 30/31 (96.8%)
Lenize Potgieter: 4/5 (80%)
Lightning shooting statistics: 66/72 (91.7%)
Peace Proscovia: 3/3 (100%)
Steph Wood: 26/29 (89.7%)
Cara Koenen: 37/40 (92.5%)
Firebirds starting seven:
GS: Lenize Potgieter
GA: Gretel Tippett
WA: Caitlyn Nevins
C: Erin Burger
WD: Gabi Simpson
GD: Kimberley Jenner
GK: Tara Hinchliffe
Lightning starting seven:
GS Cara Koenen
GA: Stephanie Wood
WA: Laura Scherian
C: Laura Langman
WD: Madeline McAuliffe
GD: Karla Pretorius
GK: Phumza Maweni
GWS Giants v Queensland Firebirds
Sunday 4 August, 1pm
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