Netball

Sunshine Girls hang on 44-44 in thriller with Barbados

BY DWAYNE RICHARDS
Observer writer

Sunday, May 21, 2017

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An underwhelming performance from Jamaica saw them hang on for a 44-44 draw with Barbados in the first of a three-game netball series at the National Arena on Friday night.The world number four-ranked Sunshine Girls came into the contest as overwhelming favourites against the number 12th-ranked Bajan Gems, but found the going tough against an opponent not prepared to roll over and die.

The two teams traded goals up to 3-3 before Barbados took the lead at 4-3. Jamaicans only drew level once again at 11-all, shortly before the end of the quarter as Latonia Blackman (32/33) led the line with precision for the Gems. Jamaica took a 12-11 lead at the end of the first quarter when Shimona Nelson (31/39) scored just before the buzzer.

Barbados came out even more focused in the second half and a swarming defence by their players prevented the Jamaicans from getting the ball to goal shooter Nelson.

On offence, the Bajans played the ball low into the circle to nullify the strengths of the tall Jamaican defenders Stacian Facey and Shamira Sterling, while Blackman and her counterpart Sheriqua Thomas (12/13) continued to exhibit excellent shooting.

The strategy at both ends of the floor worked for Barbados as they built up a 19-14 lead and maintained the advantage to 25-18. Sunshine Girls coach, Jermaine Allison-McCracken, went to her bench, bringing in Kerry-Ann Brown at wing defence and moving Adean Thomas to centre for the debutant Zonasha Hinds. The move worked as Jamaica chipped away at the deficit to end the half trailing 22-26.

Allison-McCracken made a change at half-time, taking out the ineffective Thristina Harwood, who was surprisingly played at wing attack, replacing her with a more mobile Carla Tinglin.

Barbados was patient in attack and continued to build on their lead through sharpshooter Blackman and held a seven-point advantage (31-24) midway the third quarter.

But like they did in the two previous quarters, the Sunshine Girls clawed their way back into the contest through better defending and solid shooting from Nelson and goal attack Hasana Williams (13/15). The home team trailed by a single point at the end of the third quarter as the score read 34-35 in favour of Barbados.

Jamaica drew level with the first shot of the final quarter and from there on both teams fought valiantly. The teams almost matched each other shot for shot in the final quarter. Neither team led by more than a point for the last five minutes of the game as the stunned home crowd left the venue breathing a sigh of relief at the final whistle.

Despite the draw, Allison-McCracken was pleased with the overall performance of her players at the end of game one.

“I think they did really well. There were certain elements that worked well together. The two shooters worked well together because they have played together before. We had so many turnovers and we lost it in the transition going from attack to defence.

“We have got to work on that transition, so that when we get turnovers we can make them count. I wanted the height in the circle because my tall shooters are out of the country at the moment. It works well, I like it,” she noted.

Allison-McCracken did admit, however, that there was work to be done ahead of game two today.

“We are going to have a look at the match, do some analyses and have a look at the squad that is coming out on Sunday. The girls will rest tomorrow (yesterday), so hopefully they come fresh on Sunday.”

Sandra Bruce-Ball, head coach of the Bajan Gems, was pleased with the fight shown by her girls but a little bit disappointed that they were unable to hang on for the win.

“I am very pleased although I thought we should have taken it right over the line. The full court defence and our attack; not to mention our shooters, who were on target. The girls are a little disappointed that they didn't get over the line, but I am sure that they will lift the intensity for the second game.”

Bruce-Ball knows that game two is likely to be a lot different than game one and is wary of a big response from the home team.

“This result will boost the team, but I am not going to underestimate Jamaica. We have got to continue working hard to see if we can pull off a win in this series. We were leading coming down the stretch and we should have held on to that lead. With a little bit more belief we could have taken it over the line,” she said.

The Jamaicans struggle with the strategy deployed by the Barbados Gems and Bruce-Ball explained their unusual approach.

“We are working very hard on keeping the ball flat and low across court because most of the teams that we meet outside of Barbados are very tall and we are a short team, so we have to play to our strengths,” she explained.

Game two will be played at the same venue starting at 6:00 pm today.

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