The Adelaide Thunderbirds will host the Grand Final of the ANZ Championship after producing the upset of the season with a stunning 52-38 win over the NSW Swifts in Sydney today.
Apart from the opening few minutes, the Thunderbirds dominated today’s outing to leave the seemingly untouchable Swifts with their first loss of the season.
The visitors had done their homework well, heaping pressure on a Swifts team unaccustomed to being under the pump and who had little reply.
Luckily for the Swifts, they get a second chance after finishing in the top spot after the regular season and will meet the winner of the First Windows Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic v Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel match to decide the second finalist.
There were a couple of surprises in the Thunderbirds line-up with Erin Bell getting the nod ahead of Kate Beveridge at goal attack and Emily Beaton taking the wing attack’s bib. Not surprisingly, the Swifts remained unchanged from their recent successes.
Initially, the changes looked to have backfired on the Thunderbirds, who made a nervous start. Mistakes in the Thunderbirds attack line handed the ball to the Swifts as shooters Catherine Cox and Susan Pratley helped the home team to a handy lead.
However, the Thunderbirds gradually worked their way into the game on the back of a strong return from shooter Carla Borrego and a huge defensive lift across the court.
Contesting every ball and shutting down their opponents’ space, the Thunderbirds overcame their jittery start to place all the pressure back on the home team. Clearly rattled, the Swifts showed signs not seen so far this season as they struggled to get their attack working.
Quick on the transition through court, the Thunderbirds made the most of their opportunities to lead 14-10 at the first break.
The Thunderbirds' intensity continued on the resumption, the smothering through court defence causing a host of turnovers from the Swifts. In-circle defenders Geva Mentor and Mo’onia Gerrard were always a menacing presence with the accuracy of Cox and Pratley falling away under the onslaught.
Belland Beaton responded to their call-ups with forceful and dominating efforts as the score continued to balloon in the Thunderbirds’ favour. The error and turnover rates showed no signs of abating for the home team as the pressure took its toll.
With their confidence high, the visitors took complete control of proceedings, finding a seamless and easy passage through court as Bell and Borrego provided the finishing touches under the hoop.
Nothing came off for the shell-shocked Swifts as the Thunderbirds powered out to a 31-18 halftime lead.
Changes in the form of Ashleigh Brazill coming into centre from the bench and Kim Green reverting to wing attack for the Swifts did little to change the direction of the game. The heightening physical niggle between the teams remained and the Swifts suffered another blow when Cox was forced from the court with a thigh injury after earlier suffering a blow to the face.
Captain Natalie van Bertouch was a strong presence through court for the Thunderbirds while Sharni Layton continued her recent good form with a big contribution from wing defence.
The Swifts were able to gain ball defensively but struggled to make use of it on attack as unrelenting Thunderbirds pressure paid big dividends. With the score climbing, the Thunderbirds eased into the last break with a handsome 45-27 lead.
With the game comfortably in the bag for the Thunderbirds, there was little comfort in the one-sided contest for the Swifts in the final quarter. The Thunderbirds had the luxury of giving their entire bench a run in the final few minutes while the Swifts were left with plenty to ponder before next week.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS