The double dream still alive for the reigning champs
Can Lightning strike twice? The Sunshine Coast Lightning have a chance to find out, after booking their place in the Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final against West Coast Fever next Sunday in Perth – with a shot at going for back-to-back titles.
Last week, they rolled down the eastern coastline and turned over the Queensland Firebirds in their back yard, and this weekend they went a little bit further and did the same to GIANTS Netball, beating them 59-50 in the 2018 Preliminary Final in Sydney.
The Lightning had not beaten the Giants once in the regular season, but claimed victory when it counted – notching up their sixth straight win and a shot against Fever in the big dance.
It had been an up-and-down defensive battle in the first half before the cracks opened in the Giants structures in a third quarter where the Lightning led by as many as eight goals at one point, seizing control of the match.
The Giants launched a last-ditch offensive push in the final quarter, but Lightning were able to weather the storm and secure the win.
The loss means Giants fans have seen the last of Susan Pettitt and Bec Bulley (retired) and Serena Guthrie, who will return to England after this season.
The win was built on defence, with Nissan MVP Karla Pretorius hassling any player near the ball and rattled up seven intercepts, while goalkeeper Geva Mentor came up clutch time and time again.
And goal attack Steph Wood was sublime in the goal circle, shooting 19 goals and dished off 20 assists.
Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald rolled the dice in the third quarter, injecting Kristiana Manu’a into goalkeeper to replace Sam Poolman, while reserving her biggest shock by benching Pettitt in favour of Kiera Austin.
With the game lost, Giants captain Jo Harten selflessly called a timeout and surrendered her place on court to allow Pettitt one last minute of top-flight action.
There was plenty of skill on display early, punctuated by a superb tip on from Harten to propel the ball into the goal circle and the waiting hands of Pettitt.
Bassett had a chance to put the Lightning out by two goals but pressure from Sam Poolman spoiled her shot and both sides were locked up at five goals apiece after five minutes of play.
Patience began to pay off for the Giants as their defensive grind and miserly penalty count amounted to more possession and an 8-5 advantage.
The match was disrupted when the blood rule forced both Pettitt and Pretorius off the court briefly while Lightning centre Laura Scherian was cautioned for repeated contact, as the Giants rugged defence began to take effect.
The Lightning flexed their own defensive muscle, with a Mentor intercept and a held ball call against the Giants allowing the visitors to lock the scores up once more.
Bonus points may not be on offer in finals, but both sides furiously competed for the quarter-time advantage regardless – but nothing could split them at 15-15 at the first break.
Guthrie pulled off one of the defensive plays of the game, leaping to haul in a ball sailing out of court and keeping it in play as she crashed into the sideline signage – helping the Giants push out to another three-goal lead.
Three quick goals to Bassett erased that deficit, though, as the defensive play of Pretorius and Mentors starved the Giants of possession and led the Lightning to a two-goal lead.
Rising star Austin came into the action and scored three quick goals – including a long bomb on the halftime siren – but it was the Lightning who led 27-26 at the main break.
Giants started the third quarter battling to retain possession, with Lightning pushing their lead out to four – their biggest advantage of the match.
It had been an epic battle to get to the post for both sides, but the Lightning were beginning to make it look easy – an alarming sign for the Giants.
When Bassett drained the basket and pushed that lead out to five, Fitzgerald had seen enough and called her charges in for a timeout.
It failed to arrest the flow of goals as the Lightning locked down the defence and won the transition battle to pile on a 43-37 lead heading into the final quarter.
The Giants showed their fighting spirit to cut that margin back to just two goals midway through the final term. But the comeback was not to be.
Sunshine Coast Lightning held out for an impressive sixth straight win on the bounce, two on the road in the finals series and take a huge amount of form into the Grand Final.
The West Coast Fever will host the Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final against at Perth Arena on Sunday, August 26 at 1PM (AEST).
For information on tickets go to: Finals Hub
Q1: Giants 15 v Lightning 15
Q2: Giants 11 v Lightning 12
Q3: Giants 11 v Lightning 16
Q4: Giants 13 v Lightning 16
Giants shooting statistics
Susan Pettitt 9/15
Jo Harten 28/32
Kiera Austin 12/16
Kristina Brice 1/1
Lightning shooting statistics
Caitlin Bassett 40/43
Steph Wood 19/23
Giants starting seven
GS: Susan Pettitt, GA: Jo Harten, WA: Kim Green, C: Serena Guthrie, WD: Jamie-Lee Price, GD: Bec Bulley, GK Sam Poolman
Lightning starting seven
GS: Caitlin Bassett, GA: Steph Wood, WA: Kelsey Browne, C: Laura Scherian, WD: Madeline McAuliffe, GD: Karla Pretorius, GK: Geva Mentor
Nissan MVP: Karla Pretorius