“That was one of the great grand finals”.
Orange Physiotherapy Vipers coach Lynne Middleton hit the nail on the head with one simple post-game comment, following Saturday’s epic, scintillating, nail-biting Orange Netball Association Toyota Cup grand final.
It’s a fair indication of just how good the extra-time thriller really was too, considering her side was on the wrong end of the result.
Orange City Craig Harvey Mechanical actually emerged triumphant, stifling what can only be described as one of the great all-time comebacks from Vipers to eventually win 50-46 and claim the club’s 11th consecutive premiership.
The Lions had one hand on the trophy midway through the third quarter when they held an 11-goal lead and the buffer was still eight at the final break, they led 34-26.
FT | The Lions have done it... and I'm not really sure what to say. That wasn't just one of the great @ONAToyotaCup deciders, it was one of the great all-time grand finals full stop. Orange City Craig Harvey Mechanical 50 defeats a gallant, fighting, brave Vipers side 40. pic.twitter.com/1gN4oR4nZd— Matt Findlay (@MRFindlay24) September 15, 2018
But after they produced a stunning, nine-goal run early in the final term Vipers eventually drew level and then took a 38-37 lead as full-time beckoned.
It looked as though the black and teal bibs would secure their maiden title too, until the Lions claimed a vital intercept and fed Kristin Zinga, who hit the equalising shot with one second to go to send the clash into extra time.
The tide turned in the opening period of extra-time too, Orange City coach Cindy Gilchrist called on her original starting seven and they delivered.
They pushed to a 45-41 lead in the opening period of overtime, and held on in the second to claim the four-goal win, the full-time hooter sending the Lions’ faithful into raptures.
I always knew it was ours to win or lose, and we did our best to do both and different times during it too.Orange City coach Cindy Gilchrist
“I always knew it was ours to win or lose, and we did our best to do both and different times during it too,” Orange City coach Cindy Gilchrist said.
“But we knew 10, 11 goals wasn’t enough, it never is in grand finals and it was never going to be against a team like Vipers, who have had an incredible season.
“It’s just a couple of centres and suddenly the momentum switches, you know, and that’s what happened in the game.”
Making the victory all the more impressive was the fact the Lions secured it with just one substitute, who carried an injury into the game, although Vipers had just two as well.
With Sarah Thorley unavailable already and Anna Matthews nursing a knee complaint that kept her out of the Group 10 league tag grand final a week earlier, Ellie Madden was also a late withdrawal.
She hurt herself at the Lions’ final training run on Thursday night and was sporting a moon boot throughout Saturday’s decider.
“We knew it was going to be difficult with those injuries,” Gilchrist said.
“I’m just so proud of them, we didn’t really expect to even be here on grand final day and look at what we’ve done now.”
Considering the circumstances, Gilchrist actually went as far as saying Saturday’s premiership win was the sweetest she’s been involved in with the club formerly known as Robin Hood.
“I think, yes, that is the most satisfying,” she enthused.
“Simply because we did things differently this year and it’s given kids an opportunity to play this type of netball, kids who may not have had that chance otherwise. And those kids flourished – Olivia McClure, Maddie Cole, Anna Matthews, they were great [on Saturday].
“Yes it’s still a little bit bittersweet because we couldn’t bring the [Newey’s Drive-Thru Cleaners side] with us, but we’ve got such a close bond, they’re as happy as us and we’ll all sit down, have a few drinks and celebrate together.”
Early in the clash, as it did in the preliminary final, the height of Zinga and fellow Lions’ shooter Milly Wilcox played a huge role.
Although the two sides went into quarter-time locked at nine-all the Lions had 20 shots to Vipers’ 14, almost entirely due to the their two shooters’ ability to consistently haul in offensive rebounds.
Of course those opportunities had to be created by those further down the court, and they continued in the second period too.
The Lions’ had another 20 shots in the second quarter compared to Vipers’ 13 but they proved far more costly this time.
Zinga had shot at just 40 per cent in the opening quarter, going six of 15, but found her radar in the second to nail 10 of 13.
Wilcox netted five of seven, the two combining to outscore Vipers 15-6 in the quarter to shoot to a 24-15 lead at the break.
The Lions pushed that lead out to 11 at 33-22 midway through the third, before Vipers began showing signs of a potential comeback, although no one at Sir Neville Howse Stadium could’ve predicted the fight that came.
As Nicole Thorogood found her rhythm in the attacking circle Vipers clawed the margin back to eight at the final break, at 34-26.
The momentum was still with the Lions though, especially after Wilcox nailed the first goal of the final quarter.
Then, inexplicably, the tide turned in a massive way.
Thorogood, who didn’t miss a shot from midway through the second quarter onward, and Teigan Colley piled on nine unanswered goals to draw level at 35-all.
Orange City scored the next two but once again Vipers came, and hard, drawing level at 37-all then taking the lead heading into the final seconds with a Colley goal.
But for a turnover and Zinga’s final-second shot, that would’ve been enough to seal the trophy.
Alas, Zinga locked things up at 38-all, before the Lions shifted up a gear in overtime to secure the four-goal win.
“I’m sure we put a scare into Orange City, we just couldn’t finish it off,” Middleton lamented.
“I’m so proud of the way they fought back into that game and you have to admire that comeback, I really thought the game was ours too until a few misguided passes and whatever else in that fourth quarter.
“It was the same thing in extra time, I’m definitely not taking anything away from Orange City because they played really well, I think they were probably just more consistent.
“I really am amazed at the effort though. We had to make a game of it and we did, we certainly didn’t let them have it easily.”