PORTLAND’S first Hampden league A grade finals series will stretch into a second week after a nail-biting one-goal elimination final win.
The Tigers had the ball in the their hands when the whistle went yesterday to signal a 40-39 triumph over South Warrnambool at Cobden Recreation Reserve.
Rooster teenager Nell Mitchell had the last shot of the day but missed, allowing the Tigers to transition and score a thrilling win.
It was a see-sawing battle with both sides scoring in bursts throughout the game only to see momentum quickly shift their opponent’s way.
The Tigers, with veteran goal attack Lauren Hockley firing, particularly in the second half, led at every change.
They raced to an 8-2 lead in the first term only for the Roosters to peg it back to 9-8 at the first break.
It was a similar tale in the second quarter.
Portland built a five-goal buffer before a South Warrnambool purple patch ensured the game was in the balance at 17-16 at half-time.
The Tigers’ three-quarter-time buffer was two goals.
Portland coach Kerri Jennings said it was a pulsating final quarter with both sides desperate to keep their season alive.
“The last quarter was goal-for-goal,” she said.
“They had an opportunity to level it and they missed it and we took it down the other end and the siren went.”
Jennings was rapt the Tigers celebrated their first Hampden A grade final with a win but emphasised improvement was needed if they were to topple North Warrnambool Eagles in next weekend’s first semi-final.
“It’s a good achievement,” she said.
“We have won all our netball on the weekend so that’s a positive as well.
The veteran centre said the Tigers’ inability to control the momentum was disappointing.
“We played so patchy,” she said.
“We hung in there — I didn’t think we played that well at all.
“We could have blown it out but they came back at us.
“We’d get up four or five again and they’d come back at us again.
“I thought everyone faded in and out of the game.
“Lauren is always there but even in the first half she wasn’t at her best.
“Everyone was accountable for their player, it was a great team effort.”
South Warrnambool coach Leah Kermeen, playing her 250th game, said the loss was bitter-sweet.
The established goal attack said the Roosters had fast-tracked a number of teenage players this season which bodes well for the club’s long-term success.
“(I’m) disappointed but when you reflect back we have come so far this year so you just draw on all of the positives,” she said.
“Take me out of the equation and I think the average age is 17 so that’s amazing and they’ll learn from this.”
Kermeen said the Roosters’ inexperience might have played into the Tigers’ hands.
“Whether you can put it down to they had a few more senior players in Kerri, Lauren and Donna (Fearon-Ciugureanu) and even Jacqui (Piergrosse), they are all 30 plus,” she said.
“So whether they steadied compared to our youth.
“But our girls will learn from that and certainly next year be bigger and better and stronger and classified as senior players as opposed to juniors playing up (a grade).”
Kermeen said the topsy-turvy nature of the contest reflected the two sides’ battles this season — their two home-and-away games were decided by three goals.
She thought the high-stakes nature of yesterday’s final unnerved the Roosters early on.
“It probably took us the first half to shake some nerves and settle into the game and that could have been the difference,” Kermeen said.
“We didn’t play 60 minutes consistently.
“The Wilson sisters (Ruby and Darcy) were strong in the midcourt and Nell (Mitchell) played well.
“Our defenders played well too. It was hard to pick the best especially when you only lose by one.”
Kermeen is yet to decide on her playing future.
But she admitted playing in a youthful team had proven beneficial.
“It is refreshing to play with young girls,” she said.
“I’ve really had to work hard on my fitness to keep up with them so that’s been good.”