R17: Bath 63 – Thunder 67
Impressive Team Bath performance in front of another capacity crowd sees a loss against current champions Manchester Thunder.
A memorable last home game of the 2023 season saw the Haines Watts-sponsored Blue & Gold provide a 1,700-strong crowd in the Team Bath Arena with plenty to cheer as they took a 38-33 lead into half-time.
Thunder used all of their experience to claw their way back into the game but it wasn’t until the last couple of minutes that they were finally able to put the match to bed as tenacious Team Bath fought right to the end of a high-scoring encounter.
Asha Francis, Team Bath Netball Head Coach, said: “I am incredibly proud of the performance and the whole squad, especially in the second-half when we knew Thunder would come back firing. We didn’t let them blast out the scoreline or take control, we kept with them right to the end and gave it everything we got. We adapted, stayed connected and had the freedom to really go for it in the last quarter.”
Nineteen-year-old Phoebe Maslen, voted as Most Valuable Player following an outstanding home debut at wing-defence, added: “Today was such a thrilling experience, especially with the noise from the home fans. I loved it. We all worked really hard and showed what we can do against a top team like Thunder.”
Team Bath were determined to put on a show for the home fans and signalled their intent in the opening seconds with a fantastic interception from Jayda Pechova. The goal-keeper – one of three teenagers in the Blue & Gold starting combination – produced another turnover soon after to spark a run of five successive goals for the hosts.
Betsy Creak and Sophie Kelly were shooting with confidence and also winning the rebounds as Team Bath maintained their advantage before Thunder, spearheaded by former Blue & Gold goal-shooter Lenize Potgieter, gradually eased their way back into the game.
They edged ahead with three minutes of the first quarter remaining but could only take an 18-17 lead into the break and found themselves behind again when Team Bath forced the first turnover of the second period.
The hosts were in tenacious mood, epitomised by Ali Wilshier when she saw a feed go long but won the ball back from the restart and immediately teed up Creak for another fine finish.
Outstanding debutant Maslen, centre Bethan Dyke and captain Lily-May Catling were also forcing Thunder into errors as supremely-confident finishing from all round the circle by the excellent Kelly kept Team Bath’s noses in front.
They weren’t quite able to put ground between themselves and Thunder until the closing couple of minutes when Team Bath capitalised fully on a couple of turnovers to stretch their half-time lead to 38-33, winning perhaps their best quarter of the season 21-15.
The hosts looked set to carry that form into the third quarter as they quickly stretched their advantage to seven goals but the introduction of South African international Shadine Van Der Merwe and the vastly-experienced Emma Dovey into the Thunder defence began to have a big impact
It was Thunder who were now forcing the turnovers and they scored 10 of the next 11 goals to flip the game on its head. However, with the home crowd roaring them on and Caroline Mtukule and Kadeen Corbin making an impact off the bench, Team Bath were able to slow the visitors’ momentum and were just 51-50 behind going into the final quarter.
Team Bath scored the first two goals of that period but Thunder were able to respond and opened up a four-goal advantage, only for the home side to come back once again. They cut the gap to one and had the ball in hand but were not quite able to level, giving the visitors the chance to finally grab some breathing space.
The lead was six with a minute to go but the Blue & Gold finished strongly and three quickfire Creak goals ensured the final scoreline reflected their brilliant efforts.
Team Bath now have three away fixtures to conclude their 2023 Super League season – against Leeds Rhinos on Saturday 20th May (3pm), Saracens Mavericks on Monday 22nd May (5.30pm) and Loughborough Lightning on Friday 2nd June (7.30pm).
Team Bath Netball is supported by its Principal and Pathway Partner, chartered accountants Haines Watts; Bath Building Society and Rengen Developments, who are overall Team Bath Partners; Centurion Chartered Financial Planners; Ecus Ltd, our environment partner; and PDS Coaching, who provide performance mentoring. Team Bath’s suppliers include O’Neills and 2XU.
Team Bath Netball starting combination: GS Betsy Creak, GA Sophie Kelly, WA Ali Wilshier, C Bethan Dyke, WD Phoebe Maslen, GD Lily-May Catling, GK Jayda Pechova. Impact players: Summer Artman, Caroline Mtukule, Kirsty Harris, Kadeen Corbin, Hannah Passmore.
Manchester Thunder starting combination: GS Lenize Potgieter, GA Lois Pearson, WA Iona Christian, C Amy Carter, WD Taylor McKevitt, GD Ella Bowen, GK Josie Huckle. Impact players: Emma Dovey, Harriet Jones, Natalie Metcalf, Ruby Parker, Shadine Van Der Merwe.
Quarter-time scores (Team Bath first): Q1 17-18; Q2 38-33 (21-15); Q3 50-51 (12-18); Q4 63-67 (13-16).
Most Valuable Player: Phoebe Maslen
Picture: Charlotte Clark