Loughborough Lightning secured a resounding 60-57 victory over top four rivals Manchester Thunder on Sunday night, claiming them a second win in as many days for The Big Easter Weekend in Glasgow.
The opening quarter brought speed, ferocity and a hunger from both sides to secure that all important first lead. Going goal for goal for much of the first five minutes, the two sides seemed fairly evenly matched until Thunder turned the ball on a Lightning centre to gain that all important advantage for the first time. However, the away side only revelled for a moment as Lightning fought back and pulled the scores level. Next it was time for the home side, sporting white away dresses, to steal wide passes on the edge of Thunder’s circle for their own and send it down to a patiently waiting Cholhok to sink.
The second quarter started with even more intensity than the first. With neither side safe and all to play for, it was Lightning this time that took the early lead, securing the opening three points and giving them a slight edge. Far from happy with the errors that caused this lead, Thunder quickly recovered, retaliated and brought the score back. With both sides fighting tooth and nail to cause error and turn the ball, the physicality switched up a gear and it was contact calls that allowed Thunder to finish the half ahead by just two.
Looking to put out their third quarter magic, Lightning returned to court unchanged, with skipper Nat Panagarry leading the way at centre whilst young gun Everitt took up the WD bib. Flying interceptions from Panagarry matched with the speed of Oyesola who claimed loose passes on the edge of the circle, Lightning kept their focus and went through the game matching Thunder shot for shot. Taking a two-goal lead in the dying embers of the quarter, Lightning fell fault to an error in the defensive circle giving Thunder the opportunity for an on the buzzer shot to put them ahead by just one going into the final quarter.
With just 15 minutes left on the clock and a place in the final four on the line, Lightning stepped onto court with a surprising calmness. Thunder meanwhile increased their speed, with each turn of attack they used their years of team history to fire the ball into the circle, eager to put a gap between the two sides. However, coming together, staying calm and focusing on the task at hand, Lightning shut down all intentions of the opposition. Sticking to their game plan, each combination worked hard to create space, look after the ball and open up opportunity. Keeping their heads, Lightning put a three-goal lead on the board and as the clock ran down were named winners.
Head Coach Sara Bayman expressed her delight in the side’s victory: “It was a tense game, we knew it was going to be tight against thunder, it was backwards and forwards in terms of the lead and then we managed to get ahead in the final quarter and hold on which was really pleasing.
“The focus will now turn to Pulse, its always been about taking what’s in front of us and keeping our destiny in out own hands. Pulse are a real danger to us and we’ve got to go to them at home so it’ll be business as usual in preparing for that match.”
Captain, Nat Panagarry credited the team’s ability to focus as the key to the win: “I think believing in the process and what we can do and having the coaches telling us to keep to our task and the score will take care of itself really helps during the game, especially before that fourth quarter.”
After a stellar performance on court, Goal Keeper Tuaine Keenan was deservedly awarded Player of the Match.
Lightning are back on the road next weekend when they face London Pulse on Saturday at 4pm. They head home for the final round of the regular season on Saturday 4th May when they welcome Celtic Dragons to Loughborough University. Tickets are selling fast so secure your seats now to avoid disappointment. www.loughboroughlightning.com
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Image credit: Ben Lumley