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Firebirds book Grand Final date against Thunderbirds
Women in sport, womenssport, women's sport, woman, sports, sport, professional sports women
Queensland Firebirds will meet the Adelaide Thunderbirds in next week’s Grand Final after holding out a fast-finishing Melbourne Vixens 50-46 in the Preliminary Final in Melbourne on Sunday.
The youthful Firebirds team, playing their fourth match in a row on the road, belied their underdogs tag with a strong all-round performance to seal their second Grand Final appearance in three years.
Spearheaded by captain Laura Geitz in defence and sharp shooter Romelda Aiken, a dominant third quarter ultimately set up the Firebirds win. But they had to overcome a few anxious moments in the last quarter, Vixens throwing everything at the them in reducing an eight-goal deficit to just one in a thrilling finish.
One of the early season favourites for the title, Vixens produced a mixed bag which has highlighted their campaign, unable to muster the consistency when it counted most.
The experienced and wily Sharelle McMahon was the preferred option to start at goal attack for Vixens, pairing with tall shooter Karyn Howarth while Demelza McCloud got the nod at goal defence for Firebirds ahead of Jacinta Messer in otherwise predictable line-ups.
Respective shooters Howarth and Aiken were key targets but faced intense early pressure from Geitz and Geva Mentor, respectively, as attackers had to work overtime in getting the ball goal-bound.
It was the visitors who held the narrowest of edges early on before McMahon burst into life with some trademark plays along the baseline and hard work outside the circle to hand the impetus back to Vixens.
Strong through court defence from centre Elissa Macleod and wing defence Shannon Eagland provided key turnovers for the home team, Howarth providing the finishing under the hoop. Four unanswered goals helped Vixens take a handy 13-10 lead at the first break.
More accuracy on the long bomb to Aiken paid dividends for Firebirds on the resumption, the visitors getting away to a sizzling start as they levelled up the scores before inching into the lead.
With attacking general Natalie Medhurst becoming more prominent, both ends of Firebirds court featured strongly. Aiken was a picture of accuracy and poise under the hoop while Geitz continued her strong showing on defence.
The irrepressible McMahon kept Vixens in the frame with some timely turnover ball on defence as the teams went goal-for-goal, Aiken delivering a timely off-balance goal on the stroke of halftime to give the resurgent visitors a 25-24 lead.
A drama-filled third stanza belonged solely to the Firebirds as Vixens showed signs of unravelling. Continuing to stretch their lead, spaces opened up on attack with the slick and accurate Medhurst and Aiken taking full advantage.
Dogged work on defence by the visitors unsettled Howarth under the Vixens goal, Geitz helping add hesitancy on the feed while Messer made a huge impact when replacing McCloud. It forced a last throw of the dice for Vixens, staring at an ever-widening margin as Tegan Caldwell was called on to replace a struggling Howarth.
Outscoring their opponents two goals to one, Firebirds sprinted into the last break well placed at 39-31.
However, the contest was far from over, Vixens making a valiant last quarter charge with a storming finish. Caldwell made a strong impact for the home team while Mentor produced some big plays to help the home team close to within one with six minutes to go.
But it was the ever-impressive Geitz who provided the killer blow with an intercept late in the piece and the accuracy of Aiken which got the Queenslanders over the line.