Panthers into Under 20s Grand Final

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The Panthers have booked their place in the 2017 Samsung Premier League Under 20s Grand Final after a 48-41 win over UTS St George Sparks at the Genea Netball Centre on Wednesday 6 September.

Well in the driving seat at halftime, the Penrith side survived a major third-quarter fightback from St George to send the Sparks into next week’s Preliminary Final where a victory would see them meet the Panthers again in the title decider.

The Sparks will meet ERNA Hawks who defeated GWS Fury 48-47 in the Minor Semi Final – READ FULL REPORT HERE.

A powerful start by the Panthers had them in control of the contest early on, and while the Sparks tried hard to get into their rhythm, it was tough going against the powerful Minor Premiers and defending champions.

A 15-8 quarter time lead was a good return for the Penrith side’s efforts and they looked to press home that advantage in the second period.

That they did and two minutes out from halftime the Panthers led by an impressive 14 goals. Their attack of  Nalani Nyasha Makunde and Megan Bull was working well, while good feeding from the midcourt ensured they had plenty of opportunities.

At the halftime break the lead was 13 and the Sparks had a lot of work to do.

But that was when things changed. St George came out with renewed vigour at the start of the second half as they edged the early exchanges. Around the court GA Madeline Eaton, replacement Centre Kaitlyn Fisher and replacement GS Ashleigh Selwyn were making their presence felt and midway through the quarter the Sparks were within nine of the Panthers.

Five minutes out from the last break the momentum was well and truly with the Sparks as they closed to within five goals and suddenly passes were failing to stick for their opponents.

With GS Georgia Westwood finding her range and Makunde under increasing pressure at the other end, the Sparks defied all the odds to be only one goal down at three-quarter time. And with a horror 18-6 quarter behind them, all the pressure was heaped on Penrith heading into the final term.

The teams traded goals at the start of the fourth quarter and with 10 minutes remaining the scores were level. Both sides were guilty of turning the ball over the in red zone, which was understandable given the tight nature of the contest, but when the Panthers broke serve to go three up six minutes out from full time it felt like a defining moment.

A good intercept by GK Renee Mihaere which was converted by Makunde was a good example of how the momentum was swinging back in Penrith’s favour.

The Sparks tried to come again but it was in vain. Heading into the last minute the Panthers led by seven and from there it was game over.

Quarter by quarter scores:
PANTHERS | Q1: 15 – Q2: 28 (13) – Q3: 34 (6) – Q4:  48 (14)
SPARKS | Q1: 8 – Q2: 15 (7) – Q3: 33 (18) – Q4:  41 (8)

Starting Teams
PANTHERS: GS Nalani Nyasha Makunde, GA Megan Bull, WA Chelsea Bolton, C Rylee Towell, WD Liana Hogarth, GD Maddison Mann, GK Renee Mihaere.

SPARKS: GS Georgia Westwood,  GA Madeline Eaton, WA Tahisha Hunt, C Caitlin Campbell, WD Te-arn Bradley, GD Paige Pirotta, GK Matilda McDonell.

Shooting Stats
PANTHERS: 48/59 @ 81%
N Makunde: 36/39 @ 92%
M Bull: 10/15 @ 67%
A Steckiwskyj: 2/5 @ 40%

SPARKS: 41/53 @ 77%
G Westwood: 26/32 @ 81%
M Eaton: 11/15 @ 73%
T Hawley: 6/4 @ 67%