Team Bath Netball were once again left to rue a slow start against Manchester Thunder as they missed out on a place in the Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final despite a valiant fightback.
The Blue and Gold found themselves trailing 17-6 at the end of a disappointing first quarter of Saturday’s semi-final in Manchester.
And while they went to more than match their hosts for the remaining 45 minutes, Thunder – who were beaten just once during the regular Superleague season – were able to see out a 53-46 victory.
Team Bath head coach Anna Stembridge was proud of the spirit and passion shown by her battling players but was frustrated they had left themselves with too much to do.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get off to a good start and you cannot give a quality team like Manchester Thunder a buffer like that,” she said.
“We were really proud of how the players responded, we didn’t just lay down and die, but you can’t start like that.
“We knew going into the third quarter we had to get within five or six goals and I still believed we could pull it back but Manchester Thunder are a classy side.”
Team Bath – backed by Carter Jonas – named the same starting seven for the third game running, as did their opponents.
In the two previous meetings between the sides this season, Team Bath had allowed Thunder to build up what proved to be a decisive lead in the first quarter.
And it was a similar story in the semi-final as a relentless Thunder ended a feisty opening period with a 17-6 advantage, meaning Team Bath once again had to chase the game.
The visitors had struggled to get going in attack but, with Lenize Potgieter on at goal-shooter and improved feeding into the circle, they started the second period strongly and closed the gap to 19-11.
They continued to fight hard but Thunder responded well and, with Helen Housby and Ellie Cardwell in fine shooting form, were able to take a 30-18 lead into the second half.
Team Bath made a couple of changes for the third period, with Chelsea Lewis – who had started at goal-shooter – coming back on at goal-attack and Rachel Shaw moving to wing-attack.
However, Shaw only lasted six minutes of a physical third period before being forced off court with looked to be the recurrence of an ankle injury.
Amanda Varey came on to replace her at wing-attack, while Sam Cook was introduced at goal-keeper as Eboni Beckford-Chambers and Karla Mostert moved to goal-defence and wing-defence respectively.
The visitors were showing great spirit and looked like they were building momentum when they closed the gap to ten goals but again Thunder rose to the challenge and scored five times in quick succession to regain control.
Thunder went on to edge the quarter 13-12, as they had the second period, leaving Team Bath trailing 43-30.
Claire Brownie came back on at centre for the final period, with Mia Ritchie moving to wing-attack, and the changes had a positive effect as a tenacious Team Bath began cutting away at Thunder’s lead.
With Stembridge and Director of Netball Jess Thirlby urging their players on, the visitors went on to win the fourth quarter 16-10 but the damage had been done in the opening period as they had to settle for a place in the third-place play-off.
That will take place against either Surrey Storm or Hertfordshire Mavericks at the Copper Box Arena in London on Saturday, May 7 (2.30pm) ahead of the Grand Final (5pm). Tickets are on sale here.
Carter Jonas are Team Bath Netball’s property partner, Surridge are the Team Bath kit supplier and Skins provide the team with compression wear.