Seventh successive win gives Team Bath Netball the edge as thrilling Final Four race reaches last hurdle
A defensive masterclass from the Sitec-sponsored Blue and Gold, coupled with some slick and vibrant attacking play, secured a 57-45 success for the visitors.
It was a seventh successive win for Team Bath and moves them up to fourth in the table, three points clear of Surrey Storm who suffered a surprise home defeat to Sirens Netball.
Both franchises have just one game of the regular season remaining, with Team Bath visiting second-placed Wasps on Saturday (5pm) while Storm travel to table-topping Loughborough Lightning (6pm).
Victory would guarantee the Blue and Gold’s place in the Final Four, who meet at Manchester Arena on the weekend of June 10-11 to decide who will be this year’s Superleague champions.
Should the teams finish level on points, fourth spot will be determined by goal average with Team Bath currently holding the narrowest of edges – 1.11 to Storm’s 1.10.
Head Coach Anna Stembridge said that had no impact on Team Bath’s approach at Thunder, saying: “Sometimes you get carried away with things like goal average – it is important but we just had to make sure we got the win, that was our main focus.
“Every game we have had to play recently has been like a final, every game has mattered, so I think it has prepared us really well but it is not all over yet.
“It always looked like it would go to the final game and it really is. We’ve got Wasps and Storm have got Lightning so it is a really exciting end to the season – who knows what will happen?”
An emotional evening saw the Blue and Gold stand with the home team and fans during a minute’s silence to remember the victims of the Manchester terror attack.
Once the match was under way, Team Bath immediately clicked into top gear as they dominated the opening quarter. The defensive trio of Eboni Beckford-Chambers, Layla Guscoth and Imogen Allison were magnificent, producing plenty of turnover ball which the attacking quartet of Mia Ritchie, Rachel Shaw, Paige Reed and Chelsea Lewis exploited ruthlessly.
They led 19-7 at the end of an outstanding first 15 minutes and, despite third-placed Thunder fighting back strongly, Team Bath stood firm to keep the home side at arms length during the remaining three quarters as Shantal Slater, Jess Shaw and Sam Cook all made important contributions from the bench.
Player of the match Guscoth said: “I think it was an awesome team performance in the first half, the attack was firing so well and Paige – one of our U21s – was putting in shots for fun.
“The coaches have drilled into us taking each game step by step, five minutes by five minutes. I know we’ve said that a lot of times but it really worked for us today.
“We are focusing on our own game and trying not to worry about what other teams are doing. I’ve always believed that when this team clicked we could beat anybody and I’m just so proud of everyone for pulling ourselves out of that rut earlier in the season. We are determined to end it on a high note.”
Team Bath’s U21s were also in action over the Bank Holiday Weekend, completing their inaugural Netball Performance League (NPL) season with an excellent 64-39 away win at Team Northumbria.
Meanwhile, Team Bath have been confirmed as the latest franchise to compete in the first-ever British Fast5 All Stars event, taking place in September at the O2 Arena in London.
The fast-paced event, which features power plays and an outer shooting circle, will also feature Lightning, Storm, Thunder and Wasps, with more teams to be announced in the coming weeks.
Team Bath Netball are sponsored by Sitec, Mogers Drewett are their Education Partners, Centurion Wealth Management are supporting the team’s performance analysis capabilities, Surridge are the kit supplier and Skins provide the team with compression wear.