The Melbourne Vixens have survived a fierce defensive examination to secure the Super Netball minor premiership after outlasting the Adelaide Thunderbirds in a 51-47 nailbiter.
An exhausted Shamera Sterling sobbed after the game as her Thunderbirds went within a whisker of an upset at Adelaide Entertainment Centre before the Vixens steadied to become minor premiers with one round remaining.
It has been a spectacular turnaround from the Victorians who were wooden spooners a year ago and salvaged a win at the end of a tough week during which Netball Australia sold the grand final hosting rights to Perth, denying the Vixens a chance to host the season finale.
They will at least have one more chance to play for their loyal fans when they host the major semi-final in a fortnight.
“The Thunderbirds are a hell of a team. We knew they were playing for their season,” Vixens co-captain and player of the match Kate Moloney said.
“We believed from the start of the season we were good enough. Last year was tough.
“That means so much to us because we can’t have a grand final anymore.”
Sterling could not have done any more to haul her underdog Thunderbirds across the line.
Her eight gains, combined with an additional six from teammate Latanya Wilson, helped put the hosts in the driver’s seat.
The Vixens defenders responded in the final term to drag the league leaders into the lead.
Emily Mannix and Jo Weston both won key turnovers in the dying minutes and Olivia Lewis had a hugely productive second half in the Vixens’ fightback.
The Thunderbirds remain in the hunt for a finals berth but must beat second-placed West Coast Fever next week and rely on other results to sneak into the top-four.
Defence dominated a first half that required both teams to chip away around the circle edge to find narrow cracks into scoring positions.
The Thunderbirds stacked their defensive end, with Wilson at wing defence and Matilda Garrett and Sterling prowling the circle.
Their extra height and athleticism paid off with the Thunderbirds dominating the gains tally 11-3.
Sterling was particularly savage. The Jamiacan star had six gains early by early in the third term and really troubled the usually precise Vixens attack.
So fierce was the Thunderbirds defence, Vixens feeder Liz Watson, who is rated by many as the world’s best player, had an uncharacteristically high six turnovers.
Garrett’s exit due to an injury signalled the beginning of the Vixens resurgence.