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Hummingbirds, Spurs shooting for BEL title again

Monday, January 21, 2019

Defending champions Kingston Hummingbirds and Manchester Spurs will renew their rivalry for Netball Jamaica's Berger Elite League title when both meet in game one of the best-of-three finals at National Indoor Sports Centre (NISC) today, starting at 7:30 pm.

At 6:00 pm there will also be a third-place play-off between St Ann Orchids and Clarendon Gaters, who both lost semi-final fixtures at the same venue on Saturday.

The final promises to be a high-class encounter, based on the vast spread of national players on either team, their impressive form throughout the season, and the tight battles between both in the preliminaries.

Besides title honours, the teams are motivated by a number of factors, with Hummingbirds hunting their third-consecutive hold on the title and a first for Head Coach Winston Nevers, who is having his first stint.

Manchester Spurs need no greater motivation than the fact that they have never won.

Kingston Hummingbirds defeated St Ann Orchids 59-52 in a match that was not as competitive at the end as the scoreline suggested, as the Hummingbirds had assured themselves of victory by creating a 14-point lead inside the fourth quarter, before a lapse that brought inconsistencies into their game and enabled their opponents to surge.

Hummingbirds led 16-13, 31-15 and 45-34 at the end of the first three quarters and got goals from Sabrina Spence, who netted 41 of her 51 tries, and Shanice Beckford, who hit 18 of 22.

Thristina Hardwood was St Ann Orchids' high scorer, netting 26 of 34 attempts, while Simone Gordon scored 24 of 28 tries and Rebekah Robinson scored two of four shots.

“I'm really confident. As a coach I'm confident and always say I'm going to win. You don't have to win, but I'm always confident,” said Coach Winston Nevers. “I would really want to take this final for the first time coaching a professional league team.”

His team is balanced, but strongest in attack with a national front court of centre Paula Thompson, Hasana Williams, Shanice Beckford and high-scoring goal shooter Sabrina Spence, who still topped the league in scoring despite missing their last two preliminary matches due to injury.

In reference to his players, Nevers said: “We have to keep them grounded; we can't make them get ahead of themselves. We have to make sure they have this thing in their hands. They cannot release it, they cannot say they've won a final already because we haven't played a final as yet. We're going to take it one game at a time. We're going to try and win the first game and then we look at it again.”

Manchester Spurs easily won 60-40 in a match of contrasting halves against Clarendon Gaters. The winners had to fight tooth and nail in the first half — which ended 24-23 — as Gaters found a way to thwart every combination Spurs Head Coach Connie Francis chopped, changed and threw at them.

However, key Gaters defender Latanya Wilson suffered a dizzy spell at the half and by the time she returned close to the end of the third quarter, Manchester Spurs capitalised and were in full swing, as they built a sizeable 11-point lead that deflated their opponents and killed off the contest.

“We're excited about getting to the finals. Tonight we came out with the intention to play hard and to win and to get to the finals. In the first half of the game it wasn't going according to plan, but we were able to adjust in the last half of the game and, as a result, we won,” said Manchester Spurs captain Tracey Robinson.

“We wanted it. The ladies decided that we had to get into the finals and with that desire we just went out there, put everything on the court, played hard, executed as the coach instructed us to, and it paid off in the end,” added Robinson.

Anna Kay Griffiths scored 46 of the Spurs' goals from 55 tries, while game MVP Nicole Dixon had 11 from 14 attempts and Gezelle Allison shot three from six.

The Hummingbirds beat Spurs 2-1 in last year's final but each team shared a win in their two preliminary matchups this season. Spurs won the first-round encounter 53-51 and Hummingbirds took the return, 57-52.

It was the only loss for either team as each finished with 27 points from 10 matches, but Manchester Spurs finished top of the standings by virtue of a better goal difference.

Game Two is set for Wednesday, and Game Three, if necessary, on Saturday, also at NISC.