GIANTS Netball came close to pulling off an amazing final-quarter comeback in their Round 13 clash with the Queensland Firebirds on Friday night, but fell just short to go down 56-53 at the Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre.
A poor second quarter, which the GIANTS lost 14-9, was what ultimately cost the home team as the Firebirds kept their slim Finals hopes alive at the end of a thrilling contest.
The GIANTS, who have already qualified for Finals, will look to bounce back against the Sunshine Coast Lightning at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena in their final game of the Suncorp Super Netball regular season next weekend.
“We gave the Firebirds too much of a lead in the second quarter and when you have a quality player like Romelda Aiken shooting you cannot afford to do that,” GIANTS Head Coach Julie Fitzgerald said post-match.
“I said earlier in the week that the Firebirds are a proud side with great quality and we saw that tonight.
“We have won a lot of games by coming back late but I think there is a good lesson for us tonight; we cannot leave ourselves get behind like that because it catches up with you.”
The Firebirds had the better of a pulsating opening quarter, but not by much, as both sides played wonderful, attacking netball with plenty of skill and flair.
For the GIANTS Jo Harten, starting at goal attack, was leading from the front with some razor sharp passing into Susan Pettitt, while Sarah Wall and Serena Guthrie’s feeding into the circle was calm and poised.
Erin Burger, Gabi Simpson and Caitlyn Nevins in the Firebirds’ midcourt were bringing their A-game too, however, and with the potent attacking combination of Aiken and Gretel Tippett on form they took a two-goal lead to the first break.
The visitors kept their intensity up in the second quarter and midway through it they had a 25-18 lead, forcing the GIANTS to call a timeout.
It did little to stem the tide as the Firebirds pressed well, forcing the GIANTS into errors and capitalising on turnover ball. With five to go in the second period the Queenslanders had a nine-goal lead and were looking to build a huge buffer before halftime.
The GIANTS rallied and three Pettitt goals got the home side back within six but the quarter belonged to the visitors who took it 14-9, as well as a seven-goal lead to halftime.
Fitzgerald rejigged her line-up at the start of the second half by moving Harten to goal shooter and Pettitt to goal attack and within three minutes the GIANTS were back within four.
But the comeback was short-lived. The home team were guilty of turning possession over through a combination of forced and unforced errors, and with the Firebirds midcourt finding their targets in Aiken and Tippett the visitors were able to build a eight-goal lead five minutes from the last break.
With the gap at six as the players took the court for the final quarter, the GIANTS brought on Kristina Brice at goal shooter with Harten reverting to goal attack and Pettitt moving to wing attack.
The home side started to go up a gear, as did the crowd, and quick ball movement allowed Brice get them back within four. The NSW junior was proving a good target and showed good movement to take possession under extreme pressure from Firebirds goal keeper Laura Clemesha.
Midway through the quarter the GIANTS were just two goals behind and it was the Firebirds forced into a timeout.
They regrouped and played some clever netball which allowed them trade goals with the GIANTS but remain disciplined enough not to concede turnovers. With five minutes to go the GIANTS weren’t able to get beyond the two-goal barrier and the Firebirds had the nous to see the game out despite the home side’s best efforts.
GIANTS | Q1: 15 – Q2: 24 (9) – Q3: 37 (13) – Q4: 53 (16)
FIREBIRDS | Q1: 17 – Q2: 31 (16) – Q3: 43 (12) – Q4: 56 (13)
GIANTS | GS Susan Pettitt, GA Jo Harten, WA Sarah Wall, C Serena Guthrie, WD Jamie-Lee Price, GD Bec Bulley, GK Sam Poolman
FIREBIRDS | GS Romelda Aiken, GA Gretel Tippett, WA Caitlyn Nevins, C Erin Burger, WD Gabi Simpson, GD Kate Shimmin, GK Laura Clemesha
GIANTS | Q2 Taylah Davies to WA – Q2 Jo Harten to GS, Susan Pettitt to GA – Q3 Kristina Brice to GS, Harten to GA, Pettitt to WA
GIANTS: 53/63 @ 84%
S Pettitt: 15/19 @ 79%
J Harten: 28/33 @ 85%
K Brice: 10/11 @ 91%
FIREBIRDS: 56/71 @ 79%
R Aiken: 40/40 @ 82%
G Tippett: 16/22 @ 73%
Match MVP: Gabi Simpson (Firebirds)