A GRADE – EAST GAMBIER 59 d MILLICENT 57
REGULATION time was enough to decide the 2021 Western Border netball premiership on Saturday, with East Gambier and Millicent going into extra time.
In the end the Bulldogs broke a 37-year drought to claim the flag and end the Saints’ 11-year stranglehold on the competition.
It was a tense, physical contest, worthy of an A Grade grand final with both teams not giving an inch.
East controlled the contest for much of the 60 minutes of regular time and, in fact, it was the Saints who stole the lead and set up a two-goal buffer in the final minutes before the Bulldogs rallied and forced the match into overtime, where they held on for a two-goal victory.
The opening quarter was dominated by the Bulldogs, with Lisa Fyfe providing her usual inspiration with some impressive interceptions, Emily Hunter driving hard through the mid-court and Tenille Gray finding good space in the shooting circle as some rare errors emerged early from the Saints.
The margin was six at the first break but Millicent regrouped at the first change and started to use their speed to deny the East defensive line the chance to pick off wayward passes and the scoreline narrowed to four at the main break.
It was an arm wrestle again in the third, which saw a 14-all scoreline, setting up the frenetic final quarter where Millicent mounted its challenge and almost stole the title.
Tyne Bosko picked up a couple of crucial turnovers in the dying minutes and Gray showed nerves of steel on the finish to keep the Bulldogs in the hunt and force the extra 14 minutes of play.
East secured the early turnover and while Millicent continued to challenge, a couple of errors eventually saw the Bulldogs hold on.
Young shooter Amryn Bosko was named best on court, more for her work outside the circle, often providing the outlet lead needed for her team mates and opening up space for Gray.
Every match up on court was intriguing.
While Bosko was composed and reliable, her defensive opponent Portia McRae took some critical interceptions and her rebounding under pressure was impressive.
Hannah Nitschke had the unenviable task of limiting association best and fairest Gray’s influence and while the star goaler was impressive in helping her side to the flag, Nitschke made her earn every ball and was a key link player for the Saints.
Arguably the battle of the day was Millicent’s Lisa Duldig and East’s Tarsh McCallum on the wing.
Duldig shadowed McCallum’s every move and was a cool head for her side with ball in hand, while McCallum used every possession to great effect, connecting well with Gray and Amryn Bosko.
Hunter and Lucy Denton had an epic battle in centre, with both hitting the circle hard in offence but also getting some important defensive touches.
On the other wing, Tyne Bosko was as tight checking as ever but after quarter time Paige Nitschke started to get on the move and have an influence on the contest.
Demi Verbena was the player who looked like masterminding a Saints come-from-behind victory as she, too, recovered from a slow opening quarter to run the Millicent frontline, finish accurately and feed Tabatha Sanderson with precision.
Her opponent Bo Creek, worked hard over the shot and her willingness to contest forced errors from the Millicent attack line.
Fyfe provided her usual highlights reel at goal keeper and was key in setting up the early lead, while Sanderson was still a focal point under the post and when the Saints were coming late in the match, she took some strong balls under pressure and finished accurately, netting 17 from 18 in the second half.
But in the end, no one was going to stand between the Bulldogs and a date with destiny.