Defending champions Firebirds were given a run for their money from the Kiwi battlers Tactix in Brisbane tonight, before finally shaking them off for a 64-48 victory.
Tactix, sitting at the bottom of the 2012 ANZ Championship table, surprised the Firebirds with a gritty display through first half of the match. But in the final 20 minutes, the home side settled into their customary rhythm with few errors, vaulting them to within striking distance of the top four.
Impressive shooting performances by Romelda Aiken and Natalie Medhurst, both rounding out the night with 89 percent success rates, underpinned the Firebirds’ triumph, their second sizeable win in over a Kiwi side in as many weeks.
But it didn’t come without a fight. Tactix centre Maree Bowden made an explosive start, keeping the ball flat and fast to evade the Firebirds’ agile defence.
The Tactix lacked the height to match Aiken, pitting rookie keeper Jane Watson against the rangy shooter, who made a courageous attempt against the international star. Aiken hit the deck with an ankle tweak when the scores were tied a 6-6, but was determined to stay in the game.
At the opposite end, the competition between shrewd Tactix shooter Jo Harten and the Firebirds’ seasoned goal keep Laura Geitz was spirited, taking a little of the pressure off goal attack Anna Thompson.
A concentrated defensive assault finally gave the Firebirds a breakthrough in the last stages of the quarter, to go into the first break 16-11 ahead.
Struggling to make their shots stick, the Tactix introduced the taller Ellen Halpenny to join Harten in the shooting circle, and brought Jo Trip into the defensive circle. The change in make-up, and the instruction to contest every ball, immediately saw a run of three put the Tactix back on a competitive footing.
For much of the quarter it was goal for goal, until the Firebirds slipped away again at the end of the quarter, through some canny play by goal attack Medhurst, to lead 31-25 at halftime. Although Aiken took the bulk of the Firebirds’ shots, Medhurst’s contribution of 11 from 11 was pivotal.
Both teams made wholesale changes to their defensive line-ups for the third quarter. The Tactix brought the compact but experienced Bessie Manu on at goal keep to try to confound Aiken; while the Firebirds, desperate to establish a rhythm, called on goal defence Jacinta Messer to get strong on Halpenny.
Neither side settled quickly, and as the Tactix fell off the pace, the Firebirds grabbed the opportunity to strike hard, taking a 49-39 advantage into the last quarter. Wing attack Chelsea Pitman continued to toil diligently around the circle edge as the Firebirds took the score well out of the Tactix’ reach.