Bath battle past Dragons to claim 2013 Netball Superleague crown
The most dramatic of seasons received a fitting finale at Worcester Arena as Team Bath completed the domestic double by out-fighting Celtic Dragons 62-56 to send their travelling support into raptures. In a highly anticipated battle of tactics, it was those in blue and yellow that managed to finally pull clear in the last couple of minutes to claim their fifth Netball Superleague title.
There were early signs to the drama that was to come as both sides started at a blistering tempo to thrill the capacity crowd, a record attendance of 1,506 for a Grand Final. The defences were being worked tirelessly as the feeds continued to rain down unabated.
Lottysha Cato took up her dominant position under the post, while the England combination of Pamela Cookey and Kadeen Corbin kept Bath in a narrow advantage, 16-15 at the end of the opening quarter. The only change to the line-ups for the second quarter saw Serena Guthrie move into C with Mia Ritchie trading bibs at WD. It was swiftly back on centre-pass as neither team could pull away from their opponents, Cara Moseley was working as hard retrieving the ball for Celtic as she was in supplying accurate feeds to her shooting partner.
Midway through the quarter, the Welsh side wrestled the initiative as Stephanie Williams collected a rebound from a rare Corbin miss. A converted turnover saw the merest hint of daylight between the teams. Bath were quick to respond as the fired up Stacey Francis flew in with an intercept to push her team forward and draw the scores level. A last ditch Cato score saw the Dragons nudge in front at the interval, 31-30.
With the action so close, neither Jess Thirlby nor Melissa Hyndman chose to take the opportunity to tinker with their squad. The energy and passion on court refusing to relent as Dragons continued to bombard the Bath circle with long feeds up to Cato who was locked in a fierce battle with Sam Cook for space and possession.
The most telling action in the third quarter came with time running out as Guthrie read the play beautifully to charge in for the tip in mid-court. A race down the line saw the England international keep play moving and ensured that Bath converted the turnover. This allowed the lead to change hands once again with Thirlby’s side 46-44 in front heading into the final fifteen minutes.
This was sport at its very best, the finest netballers in the country playing in front of a packed out Arena with only two goals separating the teams heading into the final quarter of the 2013 season. Once more both coaches resisted the temptation to make any changes.
More wonderful attacking play saw the score board continue to rise at an astonishing rate. A mix-up between Corbin and Asha Francis allowed Dragons to turn the ball over and move through to goal, Cato did what she does best and scored from close range to level proceedings at 50-50 with ten minutes left on the clock.
Those that had made the trip from Cardiff had dressed for the occasion and the ‘Green Army’ were now roaring with delight. The tension in the stands was far from being replicated on court as both teams continued to press with enterprising passages of play.
It wasn’t long before Corbin made up for her earlier miscommunication, some excellent work in the middle third saw her steal a tip from Williams, Guthrie found Cookey and Bath had the momentum once more.
The gap was at three with five minutes remaining and the Dragons started to press. A bounce out from a Bath attempt was gobbled up by Sara Hale, the Welsh side moved quickly through court and in the blink of an eye, the deficit was one. A mistake from the following turnover handed the ball back to Celtic and the comeback was on. The ball was engineered into the circle but excellent pressure from Cook saw Cato miss out as the feed went long, back line ball for Bath. Cookey remained composed to net from the resulting move.
If the Dragons fans felt that this was their final chance, the next play confirmed their worst fears. Brilliant mid-court pressure from Bath saw Kyra Jones exceed three seconds and concede possession. England captain Cookey scored and the wind was well and truly taken out of the Celtic sails.
It had taken just over 58 minutes of play, but for the first time in the encounter it looked like we had a winner. Bath duly wore down the final moments in a professional manner to capture the crown and allow Asha Francis to lead her team in the celebrations.
Team Bath: Corbin: 25/38 – 66%, Cookey: 37/41 – 90%, Team: 62/79 – 78%
Celtic Dragons: Cato: 54/58 – 93%, Moseley: 2/4 – 50%, Team: 56/62 – 90%
Team Bath starting 7: GS - Corbin, GA - Cookey, WA – A. Francis, C - Ritchie, WD - Guthrie, GD – S. Francis, GK - Cook
On the bench: Craig, Masterson, Parsons, Stewart, Trounce,
Celtic Dragons starting 7: GS - Cato, GA - Moseley, WA - Drane, C – K. Jones, WD - James, GD - Williams, GK - Hale
On the Bench: Thomas, Murie, Lewis, K. Jones, Dyke
Umpires: Gary Burgess and Tracy Smith with Ian Fuller as reserve