THE Adelaide Thunderbirds delivered a huge one-goal come-from-behind win against the West Coast Fever to bid farewell co-captain Chelsea Pitman and close out their 2020 season. It was a huge effort from both sides seeing neither team look comfortable with ball in hand. Despite winning each of the final three quarters, the Thunderbirds did not manage to steal the lead until the dying minutes, making the side the first this season to win a game off the hand of the super shot with a four-nil advantage in the final term. While this is the end of the road for the Thunderbirds, it also forces the Fever to finish third on the ladder with an elimination final to come next week against the NSW Swifts.
It was a confident start from both teams, with the defensive units of both sides relentless and limiting easy movement and vision down court. The huge battle between Shamera Sterling and Jhaniele Fowler was on from the get-go, with both players having great patches and Sterling forcing missed shots from her fellow tall timber at the post. But it was the Thunderbirds’ unforced errors that saw the Fever gain the early ascendancy. a six-goal lead just prior to the eight minute mark forced the hand of Thunderbirds coach Tania Obst with the attack unit just not gelling.
Courtney Bruce seemed to be winning the early battle against Lenize Potgieter, with the South African unable to find the ball with ease, and seeing Georgie Horjus rotated out of wing attack as Pitman hit the court for her final match in the Thunderbirds colours. It was a stagnant centre third that saw the Thunderbirds really struggle but it seemed to pay off a bit better in the latter stages of the quarter, reducing the margin a fraction and seeing Shadine van der Merwe impress in transition from wing defence. Maisie Nankivell continues to grow and had no issue finding Potgieter in the back space, with the goal shooter working her way around Bruce. A late super shot from Alice Teague-Neeld saw the Fever extend the margin once more for a six goal lead at the first break.
The second quarter saw Horjus hit the court in goal attack and saw a seamless start to the term and much better connection after some stagnant movement out the front. But Bruce continued to force the hand of Potgieter who got a second contact call against her, and while the zippy movement of Horjus injected something little different to the Thunderbirds frontline it was the Fever that continued to chip away and control majority of proceedings. While Layla Guscoth was not getting a heap of hands to ball, her smothering pressure on Teague-Neeld inside the circle was exceptional with long bombs not quite falling for the goal attack and Fowler well and truly kept away from the rebound.
The Thunderbirds seemed to combine far better as a full court unit as the second quarter hit the midway point, controlling ball much better and flowing down court much better. The two Jamaicans were putting on a show, still unwilling to be beaten by the other while at the other end Pitman seemed to be the missing link settling much of the attacking play. For the Fever, Verity Charles continued her stellar season, zipping around the court and finding Fowler with ease alongside Emma Cosh. Super shots from Horjus kept the ball rolling for the Thunderbirds, reducing the margin time and again, and while there was plenty of scrap across the court neither side was really able to control the play. Bruce continued to force errors but the Fever were not able to capitalise, with a miss from Teague-Neeld seeing a five goal margin the way of the Fever at half time.
The ball continued to bounce between the two goal thirds, with no goaler getting easy access to post but both great defence and great transition paving the way down court. The usually unflappable Fowler was still having an impact but certainly was not quite as impactful as usual, missing a couple of shots that Sterling got hands to on the rebound. But everything Sterling did was replicated at the other end, with Bruce continuing to fly for the intercept and apply a wealth of pressure on the feeders. Charles continued to be the barometer for the Fever, flying down court but managing to settle play well. An inaccurate Teague-Neeld was the issue for the Fever, with the goal attack sitting on just four goals at 33 per cent and forcing the hand of Stacey Marinkovich as Kaylia Stanton hit the court. The two sides continued to go goal for goal, with the Fever maintaining a four goal lead for much of the quarter. Kate Shimmin was tough as ever in goal defence, setting up out the front of Sterling once the final five minute period of the quarter began. Two super shots from Horjus saw the Thunderbirds trail by just two as the final quarter rolled around.
A huge final quarter saw the two sides start well once more, continuing a mostly even contest although a fantastic pickup from Charles saw the Fever get the early break, with the Fever centre getting hands to plenty of turnover ball. The Thunderbirds attacking pressure seemed to lessen slightly as the Fever defensive unit stepped up their game, with a seven goal lead extending before Sterling won a great turnover ball to ramp up confidence once more. An awkward landing from Sterling saw the goal keeper hit the bench and Shimmin head into the circle with Guscoth, and while it could have spelled the end for the Thunderbirds, Horjus once again stepped up again for the super shot as Sterling jumped back on court with just over three minutes left in the match. Nankivell and van der Merwe built off the momentum Horjus had manufactured with the super shot, mongrelling their way through the play and seeing a tactical timeout from Marinkovich. It was the Thunderbirds that managed to pull away for a lead for the first time and at the perfect time, with under five on the clock, defeating the Fever by just one goal 64-63 credit to a huge final five minute effort from both the attack and defensive units.
Player of the match Pitman was stellar in her final match for the Thunderbirds, calming the side and racking up 17 goal assists and two pickups, while Potgieter (34 goals from 36 attempts) and Horjus (18 from 24, including eight super shots) had their eye in at the post. Nankivell topped the assist tally with 20 and four gains (two intercepts). Sterling, Guscoth, Shimmin and van der Merwe were impressive, combining for 10 gains (five intercepts) and four pickups at crucial moments. For the Fever, Fowler was kept to 54 goals at 90 per cent accuracy, while both Stanton and Teague-Neeld put up four goals apiece. Cosh was excellent with 22 assists while Charles was force in centre with 19 assists, a gain and three pickups. Defensively, Bruce was firing from all cylinders with 11 gains (three deflections, six rebounds and two gained balls off her nine deflections).
WEST COAST FEVER 19 | 14 | 16 | 14 (63)
ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS 13 | 15 | 19 | 17 (64)
GS: Jhaniele Fowler
GA: Alice Teague-Neeld
WA: Emma Cosh
C: Verity Charles
WD: Jess Anstiss
GD: Stacey Francis
GK: Courtney Bruce
GS: Lenize Potgieter
GA: Sam Gooden
WA: Georgie Horjus
C: Maisie Nankivell
WD: Shadine van der Merwe
GD: Layla Guscoth
GK: Shamera Sterling