17 May 2010

The NSW Swifts kept their unbeaten record intact, despite the best of intentions of the Queensland Firebirds who went down fighting, 44-40, in Sydney tonight.

The ANZ Championship leaders never relinquished their lead during the blistering 60 minutes, but were constantly under the blow-torch from a Firebirds side striving to establish themselves in the top four. In their first encounter of the 2010 season, the Swifts outlasted the Firebirds by three goals, and tonight`s match was equally hard-fought.

The Swifts took an early five-goal lead, with Catherine Cox shooting confidently from the perimeters of the goal circle. But once the Firebirds found their rhythm, they rose to within striking distance, trailing 13-10 at the first break. Rival centres Lauren Nourse in the Firebirds` midcourt, and the Swifts` Kim Green, were locked in a titanic battle right through the court, neither giving an inch in the battle for possession.
Swifts circle defenders Sonia Mkoloma and Rebecca Bulley set up their ascendancy in the second quarter - Mkoloma in particular stretching to her full extended height to deny Firebirds` lanky shooter Romelda Aiken a comfortable run - and their side constructed an eight-goal advantage. The Queenslanders were far from out of the game, pulling back three to be 24-19 down at halftime.

Coach Roselee Jencke was thrilled her side were able to maintain man-on-man pressure and contest every ball. Neither side changed their on-court line-ups for the third quarter, and the passion from both teams did not wane. Firebirds goal attack Natalie Medhurst stepped up her shooting duties, well provided by wing attack Sarah Wall, and the deficit was sliced to two in the last five minutes of the quarter.
Mkoloma dislocated a finger in a spectacular mid-air intercept, but was making too much of an impact on the game, alongside Bulley, to be benched. Under pressure, the experience of Susan Pratley was telling in the Swifts` circle as she took over the role of main shooter, as Firebirds keeper Laura Geitz made headaches for Cox. At three quarter time, the home team had regained their momentum to lead 35-30.
Jencke`s decision to switch the positions of Nourse and Wall for the last spell appeared to pay off, with Wall doing a power of work at centre, and the Firebirds inched to within one goal of the lead. In the dying moments, Pratley threw herself into the game, even to the point of crashing to the floor, and Bulley racked up her eighth deflection, to give the Swifts the last say in the match.
Pratley ended the night the best of the shooters in a low-scoring game, with 78 percent accuracy, and the Swifts held on their overall lead for another round.

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