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Sophie Drakeford-Lewis on the ball in front of a sell-out crowd

Blue & Gold secure semi-final spot with win over Pulse

Team Bath Netball are through to their 13th Vitality Superleague semi-final in 14 years after completing their league campaign with a convincing 72-50 victory over London Pulse.

Roared on by another sell-out 1,300-strong crowd at the Team Bath Arena, the Blue & Gold knew a win would guarantee their place in the top four and quickly calmed the nerves by racing into an early 8-0 lead.

Pulse battled away but Team Bath remained dominant as a formidable performance saw them ease to the victory that secured third place in the final table, level on points with runners-up Manchester Thunder who they will visit in the semi-finals next Saturday (May 11, 7pm centre-pass).

Loughborough Lightning clinched fourth spot with victory against Celtic Dragons, meaning they will face Wasps in the other semi-final – the Grand Final is taking place at London’s Copper Box Arena on Saturday, May 18.

Superleague Head Coach Anna Stembridge said: “Credit to the girls, there were some moments of absolute brilliance tonight and it was great to get a scoreline like that to help build confidence and conviction going into the semi-finals.”

Shooter Kim Commane, who was named as the Player of the Match, added: “I’m stoked for the girls, they did an absolutely killer performance tonight. That scoreline was a real team effort and I’m really looking forward to what next week holds for us.”

Victory was the perfect finish to the last home game for Team Bath Netball Head Coach Jess Thirlby, who is moving on this summer after 20 years of outstanding service to the Blue & Gold as both player and coach.

Former Team Bath Director of Sport Ged Roddy and Franchise Chair Sarah Mansfield presented Thirlby with flowers and a framed Blue & Gold dress during an emotional on-court ceremony after the game.

“I just want to say how much of an honour and privilege it has been to be part of Team Bath,” she said. “I absolutely love this place and if you can’t me open I am absolutely running Blue and Gold through and through.

“This year more than ever, to look around and see so many full houses has made me so proud. Bring on the semi-finals!”

Thirbly’s two children helped co-captains Serena Guthrie and Eboni Usoro-Brown lead the Blue & Gold out onto the court for what was a must-win game.

A supremely confident start saw Team Bath surge into an 8-0 lead as they zipped the ball around court with speed, flare and accuracy. Imogen Allison, Summer Artman and Guthrie all forced early turnovers as the hosts took a stranglehold on the game.

Pulse gradually settled into the match, with former Team Bath shooter Shantal Slater and Chiara Semple impressing in attack, but Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Commane were equally clinical at the other end as the hosts maintained an 18-11 lead.

Four goals either side of the quarter break from Slater saw Pulse – who had introduced another former Blue & Gold star, England captain Ama Agbeze, at GD – close the gap to three but Team Bath quickly regained the initiative with a four-goal burst of their own.

Fantastic defensive pressure from Artman, Usoro-Brown and Allison helped to cut off the Pulse supply line, while Guthrie and Rachel Shaw were providing a steady flow of opportunities at the other end as Team Bath pulled clear once again.

The excellent Commane scored on the buzzer to give Team Bath a commanding 39-24 lead at half-time but Pulse – in their first Superleague season – were refusing to go down without a fight and rallied well in the third quarter.

They capitalised on errors from the hosts to cut the lead to 45-35 with five minutes of the quarter remaining but Team Bath found their feet again and, while they lost the quarter 15-13, they still held a comfortable 52-39 advantage going into the final 15 minutes of the league season.

Team Bath were determined to finish strongly in front of their home fans and did just that during a one-sided fourth quarter. Laura Rudland and Mia Ritchie both made a strong impact on the game after coming off the bench as the hosts wrapped up an impressive victory – their 13th of the season.

Next up is a semi-final visit to Manchester Thunder, who recovered from a third-quarter deficit to win 60-55 at Surrey Storm. The two teams met last weekend, where the Blue & Gold recorded a vital 56-53 victory to complete a league double over Thunder.

Co-captain Usoro-Brown said: “We have two very important weeks coming up and we hope to see plenty of fans in Blue & Gold behind us at the games.”

Tickets are available for the Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final!

Make sure you’re following the Vitality Netball Superleague on Twitter for the latest news and updates!

Image credit: Bryn Vaile for Matchtight.

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Wasps Netball defeat Severn Stars

Wasps Netball geared up for next weekend’s crunch Vitality Netball Superleague play off semi-final with a 60-45 victory at West Midlands rivals Severn Stars.

Mel Mansfield’s side rounded off the regular season in style at the University of Worcester Arena as they took a commanding early lead, and kept a lively Stars team at bay throughout the match.

Wasps now prepare to host Loughborough Lightning at University of Warwick on Saturday 11 May (5pm centre-pass) as they bid to reach the Grand Final for a third consecutive year.

Speaking after the game, Mansfield said: “Stars are a really tough team to play against so I’m very pleased with a 15-point victory over them heading into next week.

“I tried out a few different combinations today to prepare for next weekend.

“Defensively I thought we were brilliant and I’m really excited by what we are producing at that end of the court.

“We’ve been working on some through-court defending – all seven players defended really well and I’m pleased with the amount of balls that we won.

“This was a really useful game for us, and we have a big week of preparation ahead of us now.”

Wasps asserted their authority early on, racing into a 5-0 lead with Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris able to capitalise on turnovers in the mid-court.

Stars responded with a quickfire double before the Black and Golds raced into a 15-7 advantage with Harris and Dunn sharing the goals between them.

Stars began the second-quarter determined to narrow the deficit but struggled to make significant headway past defensive duo Fran Williams and Hannah Knights.

Wasps managed to maintain an eight-point lead throughout the majority of the quarter as Bongi Msomi and Jade Clarke capitalised on mid-court turnovers to feed Harris and Dunn in the circle, with Wasps going into half-time with a commanding 33-23 lead.

Mansfield shuffled her pack in the third-quarter with Josie Huckle at Goalkeeper, Jade Clarke at Wing Defence and Amy Flanagan in the Centre.

The move paid dividends as Flanagan linked up well with Dunn in a series of give-and-goes to maintain their ten-point lead, however, Stars came back again and narrowed the deficit to six points with the game wide open heading into the final-quarter.

Experienced England international Jade Clarke moved back into a central role in the final-quarter as Wasps looked to control the tempo of the game.

Key rebounds from Knights, Williams and Clarke foiled Stars’ attack and enabled Dunn and Harris to extend Wasps’ lead further, with the Black and Golds returning home with a 60-45 victory.

Tickets for Wasps Netball’s clash with Loughborough Lightning can be purchased by visiting www.waspsnetball.co.uk.

Tickets are also available for the Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final!

Make sure you’re following the Vitality Netball Superleague on Twitter for the latest news and updates!