Hummingbirds, Spurs to contest Berger Elite League netball finals

Thursday, February 01, 2018

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First-year champions Kingston Hummingbirds and the Manchester Spurs scored contrasting wins over the St Ann Orchids and the St Catherine Racers, respectively, to earn the right to face each other in the final of the fourth staging of the Berger Elite League netball competition.

The best-of-three finals begin today and will continue on Saturday. The third-place match will precede the first final at the National Arena at 6:00 pm.

In what was a repeat of last year's final, the Hummingbirds edged the Orchids 43-42 in the feature game, while the Spurs blew away the Racers 55-37 in the curtain-raiser.

Easily one of the games of the season, the “Birds” and the Orchids played out a fierce and engaging battle from the first whistle to the last. In a game of very small runs, neither team was able to dominate the contest as there was hardly anything in it for the full hour's play.

In a game where experience was the deciding factor in the end, the pair of Sabrina Spence (24 goals from 26 attempts) and Shanice Beckford (19 of 25) battled fiercely against the defensive pair of Vangelee Williams and Stacian Facey for control of the circle and control the ball.

At the other end, Simone Gordon, who had an off night when it mattered most, scored 25 of 39 attempts, while Thristina Harwood had five of seven and Rebekah Robinson, who came off the bench, scored of 12 of 13.

The Hummingbirds were the first on the board and led 7-4 at one point, but the defending champions clawed their way back into the contest to draw level at 8-8 before taking their first lead at 9-8. The first quarter ended 11-9 in favour of the Orchids.

Harwood and Gordon then pushed their team into an 18-12 lead at the start of the second quarter, before Beckford upped her game and literally dragged her team back into the contest. Using the court wisely and increasing her intensity in and around the shooting circle, the international experience showed on the former the Queen's School star as her team quickly cut the deficit to 19-17. The “Birds” trailed 18-20 at the half-time break as the match was perched on a knife's edge with 30 minutes left to play.

A five-point swing at the start of the third quarter saw the Hummingbirds surge ahead 25-22, before they were dragged back by the Orchids 25-25 as fans were thrilled by the spectacle being played out before them. The teams traded goals from there to the end of the third quarter with the Orchids clinging to a one-goal lead at the end of the third quarter, 33-32.

Fourth quarter and with all to play for, the players turned up the intensity even more on the court as it became a matter of nerves and will. With the defensive play at its most intense in the final 15 minutes, the slim-built Gordon found the going tough and missed key opportunities to give her team a real advantage down the stretch.

Spence was having very little joy at the other end of the court as Williams and Facey defended as though their lives depended on it.

The game was locked at 37 all when the Hummingbirds made their last and most telling surge to take a two-point leat 42-40. They then managed to hang on for a 43-42 win at the final whistle.

Marvette Anderson thought the game went exactly how she expected, and that the Hummingbirds were deserving victors.

“It was as we expected. We know that these ladies, they like to compete and they like to win, so we know that the game was gonna go down to the wire. I'm happy that my team came out victorious.

“Netball is a game of runs; teams will make runs, you will make runs, it's what you do when these runs are made that matters in the end. I think my team stood up against the runs and hence we came out victorious.”

Anderson thought that the balance in her team was what ensured the win.

“I think my team played well, not taking anything away from St Ann Orchids; what they lacked in terms of the shooting circle, they had experience in the rest of the court, and so I think it's about team effort and my team gave a full team effort towards the end.”

Anderson said that winning the title this season will rest heavily on their ability to get a win in game one of the best-of-three-final.

“Most definitely, we were in the same position last year. We lost the first game, but come this time around we are going to try and get that first win in and we will take it from there on.”

In the night's opening encounter, the Manchester Spurs, led by a masterclass from Ann Kay Griffiths in the shooting circle, took the game away from their opponents in the third quarter when they scored 19 goals compared to their opponents' eight to virtually put the game beyond reach as they led 43-27. Before that, however, the Racers had kept themselves in the game up to half-time.

The Spurs got off to a good first quarter start to lead at 15-8 after the first 15 minutes. But the Racers found their range in the second quarter to win the second period 11-9, cutting the half-time deficit to five at 25-19 and giving themselves a real chance to get into the final.

But the third-quarter blowout made the difference as the Spurs got stuck into their opponents, who were never at the “races” from there, as Griffiths and Gezelle Allison (21 of 27) slammed the door shut. The Spurs then cruised through the final quarter winning it 12-10 for an 18-point margin of victory.

Winning Coach Connie Francis wants her team to be better handlers of the ball.

“I think that we need to take care of the ball better. We need to stop being careless. At times our momentum fell for long periods, hence we played cold and then gave our opponents the opportunity to really come at us. They actually outscored us in the second quarter, so we really have to take care of the ball and shoot a little bit better.”

Francis revealed that Griffiths was definitely the key to the success of the franchise.

“Anna-Kay is a fantastic player. I remember at the draft I said I needed to have her on my team because she is a reliable shooter, and the thing is that she listens and she will do her best to ensure that we get the win. She remains consistent for us and also she has a good supporting team.”

The half-time discussions helped the Spurs put things in order, leading to the huge win.

“We went back to basics, and that is really pushing the ball around and taking better care of it and shoot, and that's what we did.”

The coach also commented on the effervescent Nicole Dixon who dominated mid-court.

“Nicole Dixon is a fantastic player and she gels well with Khadijah; the team connects well in all aspects of the game.”

Francis is of the view that her team has what it takes to go all the way if they clean up their game in certain areas.

“The girls want it, so there is no hesitation about if we can get it done. But there are certain aspects of our game that we really have to take care of in order to get the job done, and that is shooting a little bit better, passing a little bit better, and defending a little bit better. I thought that overall it was a really fantastic team effort. I think that if we clear up all of those areas we should be fine.”

Griffiths said she was pleased with her own performance and that both her and her teammates were confident of victory ahead of the game.

“I feel great about my performance tonight I performed for my team to take us to the win. We were confident enough even though we weren't underestimating the St Catherine Racers. We knew that they would be coming hard at us so we were prepared to go even harder.”

Griffiths says that mistakes will determine the outcome of the best-of-three final.

“We need to be more focused, more consistent with our play and, yes, it will be competitive, but the better team will pull through and the team that makes least mistakes will pull through.”

— Dwayne Richards

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