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Lightning survive fierce fight with Firebirds

THE Sunshine Coast won last year’s Suncorp Super Netball title for a reason.And they showed all the fighting qualities of a champion side to claim a thrilling 57-56 win over the Queensland Firebirds in a nailbiting elimination semi-final at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.The Lightning will take on the GWS Giants next Sunday to decide who plays the West Coast Fever in the 2018 Suncorp Super Netball decider in Perth on August 26.The Sunshine Coast roared out to an eight-goal lead with five minutes left in the third quarter and led by six goals at the last change but had to survive a storming Firebirds comeback in the fourth term.The Firebirds cut the margin in half in the blink of an eye and the scores were level at 53-all with less than six minutes left on the clock.The Lightning were up by one goal with 76 seconds remaining when goal attack Steph Wood hit a clutch long-range shot to give them valuable breathing room in the final frenetic seconds.It is the first time the Firebirds have ever lost a finals match at Boondall and the first time they have lost in Brisbane in 2018.Wood (20/26) and Caitlin Bassett (37/39) were mighty for the Sunshine Coast while Romelda Aiken (37/42) and Gretel Tippett (19/19) had their moments for the Firebirds.The Lightning had heroes all over the court in a complete team performance.

Poised midcourters Laura Scherian, Kelsey Browne and Maddy McAuliffe kept the ball moving beautifully, Wood and Bassett had ice in their veins as they kept the scoreboard ticking over while defenders Geva Mentor and Karla Pretorius terrorised Aiken and Tippett with their physicality and pressure.The Sunshine Coast bolted to a seven-goal buffer early in the third quarter and held it for most of the term before leading 48-42 at the last change.The Lightning looked more composed and settled with their crisp ball movement and relentless defensive pressure helping them gain the ascendancy.The tables turned in the fourth quarter as the Firebirds had all the momentum but the Lightning hung tough in the grandstand finish.The Lightning looked locked-in mentally and physically from the first pass.It was a proper derby in the opening two quarters with the Lightning taking a hard-fought 31-27 lead into halftime after an Aiken buzzer beater was denied by the umpires.It was tight, tense and physical with every shot and every pass under so much pressure.The Lightning looked the more solid of the two sides with their defensive intensity making the Firebirds work extra hard for their goals and creating invaluable turnovers.In contrast, the Lightning were finding it easier to get the ball to shooters Bassett and Wood.Players were hitting the deck on a regular basis after putting their bodies on the line in 50-50 contests and the 6453-strong crowd was booing the umpires and roaring for every goal to create an electric atmosphere at Boondall.The Firebirds burst out of the gates in the first term but five unanswered goals for the Lightning helped the Sunshine Coast take a 16-15 advantage into quarter-time.Queensland briefly regained the lead late in the second quarter but a series of turnovers allowed the Lightning to kick away just before the main break.

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