Melbourne Vixens pip Queensland Firebirds 66-64 in Super Netball thriller, Adelaide Thunderbirds defeat Sunshine Coast Lightning 51-44

The Melbourne Vixens moved into a provisional top spot on the Super Netball ladder after edging past the Queensland Firebirds 66-64 at John Cain Arena.

In Saturday’s later match, the Adelaide Thunderbirds snapped a five-match losing skid and kept their finals hopes alive by beating the Lightning 51-44 on the Sunshine Coast.

The Vixens, coming off a derby loss to the Collingwood Magpies, trailed 36-32 at half-time on Saturday and appeared to be frustrated by the third-ranked Firebirds’ stifling all-court defence.

But the home team rallied after the break, closing the gap to one point at three-quarter-time before Mwai Kumwenda spearheaded a 5-0 surge in the dying minutes to drag the Vixens across the line.

The win put the Vixens on top of the ladder, at least until Sunday afternoon when West Coast Fever have the chance to reclaim first position when they play the Magpies.

“It was hard work to play against those defenders,” said Kumwenda, who overcame a shaky start to finish with 51 goals from 55 attempts.

“In this competition, every team is really hard.

“I’m proud of the girls and how they played today.”

An 8-1 first-quarter run saw the Firebirds, paced by Lara Dunkley’s creativity at wing attack and Gabi Simpson’s quick hands in defense, set the early pace.

Dunkley’s connection with shooter Donnell Wallam continued to cause problems for the Vixens.

Vixens caretaker coach Di Honey moved co-captain Kate Moloney out of the middle and onto the rampant Dunkley as the Firebirds’ lead — which had stretched to eight points — and threatened to blow out.

Kumwenda stemmed some of the bleeding late in the second quarter before firing on all cylinders in the third term, which the Firebirds started poorly.

The Firebirds committed too many penalties, which aided the Vixens as they mounted their fightback.

Hannah Mundy was injected off the bench and into the center where she had the better of Firebirds skipper Kim Ravaillion as the match wore on, while the visitors progressively had no answers for Kumwenda.

Thunderbirds down Lightning

The visiting Thunderbirds got the job done at USC Stadium with exceptional defense allied by accurate shooting, connecting at 92 per cent to the Lightning’s off-colour 62 per cent.

The brilliant Shamera Sterling led the defensive charge, chalking up seven rebounds, five deflections and three intercepts, giving the Lightning’s shooters nightmares all match with her athleticism and anticipation.

“It’s good to get intercepts when they’re capitalised [on] by your shooters,” Sterling said after the Thunderbirds leapfrogged the Lightning into the fifth spot on the ladder.

“We came here with the mindset that we wanted to win and take off some of that ladder pressure.

“As of now, it’s just a deep grind to get into that top-four spot.”

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With Sterling starring, the visitors took a 13-10 edge at the first break as the well ran bone-dry for the Lightning, who went scoreless for more than six minutes either side of quarter-time.

Steph Wood was wayward all evenings and Cara Koenen looked rusty in her return to action after missing last week’s landslide loss to the Giants with COVID-19.

With Tayla Williams having an influence after being injected off the bench into the center for Adelaide, the buffer blew out to nine goals early in the third quarter.

Laura Scherian was moved to the middle and Annie Miller promoted to wing attack, the changes helping Sunshine Coast seriously rally twice in the second half.

With the Thunderbirds penalty-prone and turnover-riddled, the Lightning trimmed the deficit to three goals before Adelaide responded and stretched their advantage back out to 39-31 at the final change.

The home side-mounted one more charge in the fourth but their poor shooting came back to haunt them and a 5-0 spree from Thunderbirds goal shooter Lenize Potgieter inside the last three minutes put the Lightning away for good.

AAP/ABC

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