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Thunderbirds to host Grand Final
Adelaide Thunderbirds will host the Grand Final in two weeks after repelling the Melbourne Vixens 49-39 in the Major Semi-Final in Adelaide on Sunday.
There was nothing to separate the teams for three-quarters of the match, the minor premiers applying the blow torch in the run home with a forceful finish to take the direct route through to the Grand Final.
Courtesy of their second place finish in the regular season, Vixens get another life and will play the winner of the Minor Semi-Final between Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic and Queensland Firebirds in next week’s Preliminary Final.
With one apiece after their two clashes during the round robin, the traditional rivals produced a riveting contest, Thunderbirds building on a staunch defensive effort to set the winning platform.
Eventually grinding their opponents into submission, Thunderbirds finished with a flourish in cementing a 12th straight win and a week off ahead of the Grand Final.
Thunderbirds retained their reliable starting seven of recent weeks while Vixens opened with the shooting duo of Karyn Howarth and Tegan Caldwell and Shannon Eagland at wing defence.
Through court defensive pressure was the highlight of the opening term, the home team muscling their way to a slight edge in a frantic start. Thunderbirds defensive unit of Sharni Layton, Rebecca Bulley, Renae Hallinan and Natalie von Bertouch were hugely effective in blunting Vixens forward flow.
Both shooting ends were slightly shaky but it was Thunderbirds who stole the early march on the back of more possession and an easier passage to goal.
On the other hand, Vixens were laboured on attack, Caldwell managing just the one shot for the quarter as Bulley kept her well contained.
Shooting at just 71 percent accuracy was still enough for Thunderbirds to take a 12-8 lead heading into the first break.
Vixens were quick to make amends on the resumption, the experienced Sharelle McMahon replacing Caldwell as the visitors surged back into the contest.
Gradually growing into the game, the livewire McMahon’s ability to find space and create play helped Howarth find more opportunities under the hoop.
Vixens were also able to exert their own defensive pressure, led by captain Bianca Chatfield the visitors got their hands on more ball through turnovers, Howarth responding in-goal with a higher volume of shots.
With more ball, the flow on attack became more evident from Vixens as they enjoyed the better of the second stanza to take a narrow 21-20 lead at the main break.
In a desperate battle of wills, momentum swung back and forth during an exciting third stanza. Vixens made the early running through the impressive exploits of Geva Mentor and Chatfield, the home team struggling to get clean shots on goal as the visitors stretched out to a four-goal buffer.
Just as quickly, Thunderbirds came charging back, turnovers becoming critical as the intensity showed no signs of lessening. Under enormous pressure, both sets of shooters had their moments without being able to dominate completely as the went along in fits and starts.
However, it was the tall figure of Jamaican import Carla Borrego, who gave the Thunderbirds the impetus going into the last break, the shooter nudging the home team to a tenuous 31-30 lead.
Scoring the first three goals of the final term steeled Thunderbirds resolve, the home team showcasing their renowned ability to execute under pressure.
Stepping up defensively, Thunderbirds stretched out to the biggest lead of the game, building on the five-goal buffer to finally break the Vixens spirit with a surging finish.