A sensational final-quarter fightback was not quite enough to salvage a result for Team Bath Netball as Loughborough Lightning held on for a single-goal victory that takes them top of the Vitality Netball Superleague.
The Sitec-sponsored Blue & Gold found themselves trailing 37-27 at the end of a third period that saw tremendous defensive pressure and ruthless finishing give the visitors a seemingly unassailable lead.
However, Team Bath – playing their third home game in seven days – refused to accept defeat and, roared on by a capacity crowd, stormed back into the contest.
They sliced away at Lightning’s lead and had reduced it to one going into the final minute. The roof nearly came off the Team Bath Arena when Layla Guscoth forced a turnover to give the hosts a chance to level with just three seconds remaining but the shot rolled around the net and the visitors were able to breathe a mighty sigh of relief.
Despite the defeat, Team Bath are still right in the mix for a semi-final place going into the last two weeks of the season and Anna Stembridge, the Blue and Gold’s Superleague Head Coach, said the final quarter epitomised how her team would keep fighting until the last.
“It’s certainly not all over yet,” she said. “All of the top teams still have to play each other and we are going to come out fighting against Wasps next week.
“I honestly thought it was going to extra-time tonight but just to be able to put ourselves in that position was a credit to the way the girls dug deep and showed their character.
“I was very proud of the way the girls kept going in that last quarter, they were a lot more clinical and we absolutely flooded Lightning with the sheer volume of turnover, but credit to Loughborough for the way they really brought to us in the third quarter.”
Team Bath had recorded an excellent 59-54 away win when the teams last met just before the Commonwealth Games break but Lightning had won every match since then and are very much the Superleague’s form side.
They got off to a confident start, turning over Team Bath’s first centre-pass and building a quick 5-3 lead, but the home side were up for the battle and soon had their noses in front.
Momentum continued to swing during an enthralling first quarter, with Lightning again edging into the lead before a four-goal burst from Kadeen Corbin put the Blue and Gold 11-9 up.
They had chances to extend their advantage but couldn’t quite take them and the visitors were able to respond once again to make it 12-12 after an even first 15 minutes.
As they had in the first quarter, Lightning came out strong at the start of the second period and quickly opened up a 16-12 lead through the unerring accuracy of shooter Peace Proscovia.
The burst of scoring put pressure on Team Bath, who were guilty of rushing their passes around the circle and squandering turnovers as they looked to get back into the game.
Roared on by the 1,100-strong crowd, the Blue and Gold kept plugging away and at one point had cut the lead to two but a couple of missed shots proved costly and they found themselves trailing 24-20 at half-time.
It was Team Bath’s turn to make the brighter start to the third period as three quick goals closed the gap to 25-23. However, with Lightning’s superb defence providing precious little space to exploit in and around the shooting circle, the errors began to creep back in and the visitors punished them ruthlessly with a devastating burst of nine goals in a row.
Team Bath rang the changes in attack as Chelsea Lewis came on at shooter, Corbin went to goal-attack and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis moved to wing-attack but, despite good work in defence from Guscoth and Eboni Beckford-Chambers, the hosts found themselves 37-27 down going into the final 15 minutes.
They refused to accept defeat, though, and – with Rachel Shaw back on at wing-attack – continued to fight throughout the last quarter. Brilliant interceptions from Imogen Allison and Wild About Flowers Player of the Match Mia Ritchie had the crowd on their feet and, inspired by the wave of noise, the lead was cut to three with four minutes to go.
The atmosphere in the Team Bath Arena was electric as the home side continued to close the gap and, with 60 seconds on the clock, Lewis netted again to make it a one-goal game.
Lightning attempted to hold onto possession but Guscoth had other ideas and forced a brilliant turnover. The ball was quickly moved down the court and just three seconds were on the clock as Lewis lined up her shot. However, it agonisingly hit the ring as a rousing comeback fell short by the narrowest of margins.
Team Bath will take great heart and belief from their performance in the last quarter into their final two games of the regular Superleague season – they play host to defending champions Wasps in a sell-out home fixture next Friday (June 15, 7.30pm) before visiting fellow top-four contenders Manchester Thunder on Saturday, June 23.
Team Bath Netball are sponsored by Sitec and supported by partners Mogers Drewett, Investigo and Netball South West. Centurion Chartered Financial Planners are supporting the team’s performance analysis and people development capabilities, Viper 10 are their Sportswear Supplier and Skins provide the team with compression wear.
Team Bath Netball starting 7: GS Kadeen Corbin, GA Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, WA Rachel Shaw, C Mia Ritchie, WD Imogen Allison, GD Layla Guscoth, GK Eboni Beckford-Chambers. Replacements: Chelsea Lewis, Tash Pavelin, Paige Reed, Abi Robson, Zanele Vimbela.
Changes: Q3: Lewis – bench to GS; Corbin – GS to GA; Drakeford-Lewis – GA to WA; Shaw – WA to bench. Q4: Shaw – bench to WA; Drakeford-Lewis – WA to bench.
Loughborough Lightning starting 7: GS Peace Proscovia, GA Brittany Coleman, WA Hannah Joseph, C Natalie Panagarry, WD Beth Cobden, GD Vicki Oyesola, GK Shamera Sterling. Replacements: Rebekah Airey, Chloe Essam, Rosie Harris, Lauren Nicholls, Anya Wood.
Changes: Q4: Essam – bench to GA; Coleman – GA to bench.
Quarter-scores: Q1 12-12. Q2 20-24 (8-12). Q3 27-37 (7-13). Q4 42-43 (15-6).
Courtesy of Team Bath via Matchtight Ltd.