The West Coast Fever’s hot streak is over after the Adelaide Thunderbirds scored a 64-63 boilover at Brisbane’s Nissan Arena.
The Thunderbirds’ thrilling comeback from eight points down early in the final term ended the third-placed Fever’s chances of qualifying for next weekend’s major semi-final and brought bittersweet tears from outgoing Thunderbirds co-captain Chelsea Pitman.
Pitman has not been offered a contract with the club for next season but that did not stop her from coming off the bench to play a key role in the upset.
“I’m going to get emotional just thinking about it. It’s been a big week for me,” a teary Pitman said after her 17 assists and 32 feeds performance.
“I’ve made it known I don’t want to be leaving … Sport sometimes doesn’t give you the dream ending and I’m not saying that’s my retirement.
“I want to keep playing so I think that’s where the emotion comes from. It’s bittersweet.”
The Fever looked set to extend their unbeaten sequence to eight games when Jhaniele Fowler (54 points) helped them to a commanding final-term lead.
Then up stepped youngster Georgie Horjus (18 points) who let fly with four Suncorp Super Shots to wrench the contest out of the Fever’s hands.
The outcome means Sunshine Coast Lightning can not be knocked out of second place and will tackle minor premiers the Melbourne Vixens in next Saturday’s grand final qualifier at USC Stadium on the Sunshine Coast.
West Coast will meet the NSW Swifts in the elimination minor semi-final.
“We’ve got to draw a line in the sand and leave it. The finals are a new kind of game,” Fever captain Courtney Bruce said.
The Thunderbirds were on the back foot early and turned to their Plan B after Horjus failed to provide the penetration they needed at wing attack.
They looked a more balanced side after quarter time when Horjus, switched to goal attack, combined more effectively with co-captain Pitman.
It was defence, however, that was the major point of difference between the sides.
The Fever, through Bruce, had little trouble winning possession when the team needed a lift. The Thunderbirds had to work diligently and wait for every little scrap.
Goal keeper Shamera Sterling gave everything in her battle with Fever scoring machine Fowler but at three-quarter time she had just one intercept to her name as the Fever clung to a two-point lead.
In the end, that advantage was not quite enough to deny the Thunderbirds on the night, although it is the Fever whose season goes on.
Q1: Fever 19 v Thunderbirds 13
Q2: Fever 14 v Thunderbirds 15
Q3: Fever 16 v Thunderbirds 19
Q4: Fever 14 v Thunderbirds 17
Nissan Player of The Match – Chelsea Pitman (Adelaide Thunderbirds)
Fever shooting statistics
Jhaniele Fowler: Total points 54 – G1 54/58 (93%) G2 0/2 (0%)
Kaylia Stanton: Total points 4 – G1 4/4 (100%) G2 0/1 (0%)
Alice Teague-Neeld: Total points 5 – G1 3/8 (37%) G2 1/4 (25%)
Thunderbirds shooting statistics
Sam Gooden: Total points 4 – G1 2/3 (66%) G2 1/4 (25%)
Georgie Horjus: Total points 26 – G1 10/15 (67%) G2 8/9 (89%)
Lenize Potgieter: Total points 34 – G1 34/36 (94%) G2 0/1 (0%)
Fever starting seven: GS – Jhaniele Fowler GA – Alice Teague-Neeld WA – Emma Cosh C – Verity Charles WD – Jess Anstiss GD – Stacey Francis GK – Courtney Bruce
Thunderbirds starting seven: GS – Lenize Potgieter GA – Sam Gooden WA – Georgie Horjus C – Maisie Nankivell WD – Shadine van der Merwe GD – Layla Guscoth GK – Shamera Sterling