By David Nagel
The sun wasn’t the only thing shining across the netball courts of West Gippsland on the weekend with four sensational teams producing some stunning semi-final action.
Huge, enthusiastic crowds gathered at Inverloch and Cora Lynn to watch some high-class and competitive netball, with no more than three goals separating teams at any break over the weekend.
It was fascinating and enthralling netball to watch, and sets up a bumper last two weeks of the season.
Bunyip is the first team through to the 2022 grand final after an epic 39-37 victory over minor premiers Inverloch-Kongwak in an absorbing second semi-final on Saturday.
A direct passage through to the big dance was a huge carrot for both teams, and the intensity of the contest matched the prize on offer.
Both teams were magnificent, with Bunyip’s Ebony Mumford (C), Chloe Papley (WA) and Ally Johnson (WD) taking on the class of Kelsey Buxton (C), Lanni Pryor (WA) and Rahni Mann (WD) through the midcourt.
These players gave everything in the late-winter sun and continued to push each other to the limits.
But – despite the intense pressure – neither team would buckle.
Bunyip took a 10-9 lead to quarter time and increased that margin narrowly to 21-19 after a hard-fought second stanza.
Jasmin Mackie (GS) produced some great aerial work on her way to 19 goals for the half, while Kyra Esler (GA) provided support, and Sam Walker (GK) and Olivia Hunt (GD) were doing a great job for the Bulldogs in defence.
The Sea Eagles were forced to dig as deep as they have all season, and responded as only very good teams can do.
Coach Jarrad Walker brought Ella Sadler (GS) off the bench, into goals, with Tayla Robb (GA), Tayla Smith (GK) and Renee Pilkington (GD) giving nothing away in a thoroughly intense third term.
The Sea Eagles regained some slight momentum and trailed by just one – 31-30 – after winning the third quarter by a goal.
Both teams had massive support on the sidelines and every goal was celebrated wildly as the final quarter came down to clutch moments.
The pressure of both teams was enormous, putting the spotlight on every single pass and every critical shot at goal.
The Bulldogs scored 8-7 in the final term to spark wild celebrations from their fans after booking the first ticket to the big dance.
Inverloch will need to lick its wounds quickly, because waiting in this week’s preliminary final is reigning champion Tooradin-Dalmore.
The Seagulls were also forced to overcome a brave and committed opponent, eventually overcoming Nar Nar Goon, 42-39, to keep their season alive.
Scores were level across the first, third and fourth quarters, but a second-quarter surge of 12-9 gave the Seagulls a crucial three-goal lead at half time.
Ebony Mason (GK) and Eb Dolan (GD) were absolute rocks at the defensive end of the court, while the midcourt drive of Jess Maher, Sarah Howie (C), Stacey Sawyer (WA) and Zoe Coventry (WD) saw the Gulls take the advantage heading to the half-time whistle.
Some steady shooting in the second half from Alex Maher (GS) saw the Gulls hold on for a memorable victory.
Nar Nar Goon got better and better as the season rolled on, and by the end of it was competitive with every team in the competition.
Chantelle Dale (C), Bec Cox (WD), Meaghan Winter (WA) and Steph Lee (GA) gave their absolute best until the end, but couldn’t quite get across the line – but the Goon girls should be super-proud of their efforts and achievements.
This week’s preliminary final will be an absolute belter, with no more second chances for the Sea Eagles, and the Seagulls absolutely desperate to make the grand final and attempt to defend their crown.
But it’s Inverloch-Kongwak to progress to a mouth-watering rematch with Bunyip with a hard-fought five-goal victory.
WEEK 2 – RESULTS
Major Semi Final (1 v 2)
Saturday at Inverloch Recreation Reserve
A Grade: Inverloch-Kongwak 37 v Bunyip 39
B Grade: Tooradin-Dalmore 45 v Bunyip 40
C Grade: Bunyip 32 v Inverloch-Kongwak 36
D Grade: Inverloch-Kongwak 30 v Bunyip 31
17 Under: Dalyston 41 v Korumburra-Bena 22
15 Under: Inverloch-Kongwak 24 v Phillip Island 27
13 Under: Phillip Island 21 v Nar Nar Goon 25
11 Under: Nar Nar Goon 27 v Inverloch-Kongwak 15
Minor Semi Final
Sunday at Cora Lynn Recreation Reserve
A Grade: Tooradin-Dalmore 42 v Nar Nar Goon 39
B Grade: Dalyston 44 v Nar Nar Goon 54
C Grade: Cora Lynn 20 v Nar Nar Goon 17
D Grade: Dalyston 30 v Nar Nar Goon 34
17 Under: Phillip Island 54 v Inverloch-Kongwak 39
15 Under: Korumburra-Bena 36 v Bunyip 24
13 Under: Kooweerup 19 v Cora Lynn 31
11 Under: Dalyston 10 v Tooradin-Dalmore 13
WEEK 3 – FIXTURE
Saturday at Dalyston Recreation Reserve
A Grade: Inverloch-Kongwak (1) v Tooradin-Dalmore (3) 2.45pm
B Grade: Bunyip (2) v Nar Nar Goon (4) 1.30pm
C Grade: Bunyip (1) v Cora Lynn (6) 12.30pm
D Grade: Inverloch-Kongwak (1) v Nar Nar Goon (4) 11.30am
17 Under: Korumburra-Bena (2) v Phillip Island (3) 10.30am
15 Under: Inverloch-Kongwak (1) v Korumburra-Bena (3) 9.40am
13 Under: Phillip Island (1) v Cora Lynn (4) 8.50am
11 Under: Inverloch-Kongwak (2) v Tooradin-Dalmore (4) 8.00am