Lions roar back into form, blitz Vipers to earn crack at 10th straight title | Photos, videos

The prudent question leading into last weekend’s Orange Netball Association Toyota Cup preliminary final was how Orange City would bounce back from its first finals loss since 2013, suffered in the major semi-final.

The Lions answered that in the most emphatic of fashions on Saturday afternoon, blitzing Vipers in the opening quarter and never looking back to earn a crack at a 10th straight title.

Thanks to a stunning defensive effort in the opening term Orange City shot to 12-7 lead at the first break, a buffer the side built on in the second, third and fourth quarters to ultimately win 43-34.

“We answered the question of whether we’d bounce back. We bounced,” Orange City coach Cindy Gilchrist said.

“It’s a different position to be in going into a grand final, not being the first team there but I like. It like it a lot.

“We’ve had that loss now and we didn’t like it, we didn’t like that feeling. It won’t happen again.

“Defensively our first quarter was great, and our shots went in which was important. We did run a slightly different game plan early that we normally do, but it paid off.”

Sammie Spicer’s effort in the defensive end in the opening quarter – the whole game really – was something to behold, her battle with Vipers shooter Soph Kleeman was a fierce one throughout the clash.

The contact was brutal, and it resulted in Spicer hitting the deck half a dozen times. She constantly bounced back up though, and stated her case for player of the game honours too.

Vipers actually led 5-4 early, thanks to four Kleeman goals, but after Orange City took a 6-5 lead the Lions controlled the tempo of the clash beautifully.

After taking that early lead Orange City – Erin Johnstone mainly – built on it.

The experienced shooter was injected in the second quarter and nailed her first five shots on goal, helping give the Lions a 24-12 lead at the main break despite Lauren Williams going down.

She returned in the third quarter, her knee heavily strapped.

Vipers cut the deficit to nine by the third break, it was 34-25, and slashed it to five at one stage in the last term, but it was too little too late.

Viper coach Lynne Middleton said as much.

“We started too slowly, we won the second half (23-19) but we were chasing our tails,” she said.

“We didn’t play the way we did (in the minor semi-final). We were a bit tentative in the first quarter, the shots that normally go in weren’t going in.

“We had our opportunities, but we didn’t take them. That’s the name of the game, all credit to Orange City, they attacked and they attacked well.

“We finished fourth last year, third this year so we’re climbing the ladder.”

The Lions won on Saturday without the versatile Sarah Thorley, who was unavailable.

She left the court in the major semi-final loss to Hawks Royal with injury, and many pointed to that loss as the turning point in that grand final qualifier.

She will return for the decider, a huge boost for the Lions considering Williams and a couple of others remain under injury clouds.