The Coffee Club Queensland Firebirds marched into their fourth consecutive Grand Final after a battling 67-64 win over a plucky Ascot Park Southern Steel in Brisbane on Sunday.
It took until the final quarter and needing to rely on all their previous Finals experience before the defending champions could break the Steel’s resolve. Coming in with the best regular season record, the visitors challenged all the way to the final whistle in a pulsating first Semi Final.
However, it was the Firebirds who produced a forceful final quarter, working their way into the lead while maintaining an unbeaten 18-game winning streak at their home fortress.
Hoping to become the first team to win back-to-back titles, the Firebirds will meet the winner of tomorrow’s second Semi Final between Cold Power Magic and the NSW Swifts in next week’s Grand Final.
Both teams turned on a match worthy of its status in a free-flowing high-scoring spectacle.
All eyes were on the two Jamaican shooters, Romelda Aiken (Firebirds) and Jhaniele Fowler-Reid (Steel) as the pair traded their super shooting qualities under the respective rings throughout the clash. Both went on to notch personal hauls of 57 and 51 goals respectively.
It was the Firebirds who edged into a 19-16 lead at the first break before the Steel made a significant move on the resumption.
Shoring up their defensive effort while goal attack Te Paea Selby-Rickit became more involved, the visitors threw everything at the defending champions.
It paid dividends with the Firebirds having some uncustomary fumbles in the shooting circle while at the other end, Fowler-Reid was a towering influence. Reeling in a steady succession of high bombs while converting a faultless 25 goals from 25 attempts, the lofty Jamaican played a strong hand in propelling the visitors out to a 35-32 lead the main break.
The third stanza delivered an intense and willing contest as the pressure mounted on both teams. An early surge by the Firebirds on the back of a telling defensive effort provided turnover opportunities as the home team levelled the scores late in the piece.
Laura Geitz and Jane Watson, the respective goalkeepers, got their hands on more ball but once again, it was the Steel who held firm. Not taking a backward step, the visitors made better use of their turnovers while holding firm against everything the Firebirds could throw at them to hold a narrow 49-47 lead at the last break.