- Monday 03 April 2017
Not even the return of star goalshooter Romelda Aiken from injury could help the Queensland Firebirds as the Sunshine Coast Lightning tightened its grip on a Suncorp Super Netball League top two spot with a 60-49 win at USC Stadium on Sunday.
Sunshine Coast captain Geva Mentor tamed Aiken (30 goals at 71%), while at the other end Caitlin Bassett underlined her status as the world’s premier shooter with a match winning 45 goals at 96%.
Firebirds captain Gabi Simpson was a lion in defence, and stand-in centre Caitlyn Nevins ensured her team had ample opportunities.
But the stifling pressure from Sunshine Coast crushed the champions, while the execution from centre Laura Scherian and goal attack Stephanie Wood put the Firebirds to the sword.
The Firebirds never really looked like breaking down the Lightning, and the loss cost them a chance to keep pace with the top three.
With so much at stake, the Firebirds needed a strong start to fill them with confidence against the likes of superstars Bassett, Laura Langman and Mentor.
The home side was just as focused, and brought with them sufficient pressure to force Firebirds attacker Gretel Tippett to concede two contact penalties inside the opening seven minutes.
It was not the sort of start that would help the young goal attack ease pressure on scoring machine Romelda Aiken who was having an immensely difficult time holding off Mentor.
The Firebirds eventually settled, but coach Roselee Jencke sought further improvement at quarter-time by switching Tippett to wing attack, a position she has handled at international level.
Tactically, that move was a win to the Lightning, but it also presented a juicy match-up between the height and athleticism of Tippett and Langman’s sublime skill and fitness.
It also injected rookie Abigail Latu-Meafou who combined well with Aiken, adding a valuable eight goals for the quarter.
Cracks appeared in the usually unruffled Firebirds when a miscommunication between the players and the bench resulted in the unwanted substitution of defender Kate Shimmin.
For all that pressure on the Firebirds, the Lightning’s lead was just four goals at halftime.
The visitors made a run at Sunshine Coast, reducing the difference to a goal early in the third term.
Yet for every question, the Lightning had a reply.
Wood’s agility and creativity kept a door open at the attack end, and the Lightning managed to keep the Firebirds at a safe distance.