It was a battle between West Leagues Balance 1 and South Lions’ defensive outfits at National Park as the Open Championship returned from the holiday break with a bang.
On one end of the court Tianna Cummings and Nakita Jackson combined for most of the first-vs-second clash, with Georgia McVey putting in shifts at wing and goal defence, while Mikenzie McManus (goal defence) and Laura Rodger (keeper) were key for Wests in their 50-44 win.
Wests took an early lead in the first quarter, 12-9, before Souths answered back with a 13-10 second quarter to level the score at 22-apiece.
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The contest remained close deep into the third quarter, with a last-second goal from Maddie Taylor putting Wests into the lead, 35-34.
From there Rodger put her stamp on the match as she filled the boots of keeping regular Kimberley Goodearl, denying the Lions any meaningful momentum with a number of blocks and turnovers.
While Souths were able to maintain early in the fourth, an ankle injury forced Tianna Cummings from the field with less than ten minutes to go, and Wests were able to capitalise to balloon their lead out to six.
Considering this time last year saw Wests fall to the Lions in their first defeat of the season, coach Traci Baggs was “very happy”.
“[The team] played very well considering they had those two weeks off,” Baggs said of the six goal victory.
“Given that we didn’t have Goodearl this week, Rodger stepped in and did an amazing job. [She] worked really hard to shut down Brooke [Fennings], who was their main shooter by far, and she did extremely well.”
Baggs also confirmed Goodearl would return next week after illness ruled her out for the tenth round clash.
While defeating the second placed team twice in the season gives Wests their best chance to reach the finals without a loss, Baggs revealed her team will just focus on “each game in front” of them.
“If anything, the group of girls we have at Wests Balance are very humble, it’s a word I use to describe them quite a lot,” she said. “It’s been a very close competition, and no games are tight. Bring on the rest of the season.”
Also in the early fixtures at National Park, West Leagues Balance 2 fell to Forsythes 33-66, with both teams struggling with absences over the weekend, while BNC Whanau kept in the race for top four with a win over Nova Thunder, 45-28.
Finally, Souths Pride put a stop to their nine-game losing streak in Newcastle’s top grade, keeping Maryville Tavern to a 49-all draw in the late fixture.
TABLE: Wests 1 (35), Souths Lions (29), Forsythes, BNC (27), Nova (25), Maryville (21), Wests 2 (19), Souths Pride (16).