The South Coast Blaze made a perfect start to their 2021 NSW Premier League season on Wednesday night, recording two strong victories against the Capital Spirit.
In the under 23s match, the Blaze made a solid start to the fixture, including Jessica Bowden blocking a pass into the circle for an early 6-4 lead. At 6-all, Kiah Yealland was handed the centre bib to give Bronnee Loy a rest. It resulted in full-court pressure on the next defensive centre pass - leading to held ball call and a sharp shot by Emily Dunn.
The Blaze pushed on late in the quarter to finish the first quarter ahead 16-9.
Annalise Chadrawy came into goal keeper to start the second quarter, replacing Aimee Landrigan, attacking the ball outside the circle for numerous early turnovers.
Crisp, direct passes in the attack end saw Blaze push out the lead by 11 in the first five minutes.
Up by 14 goals, Mackenzie Farrow made her Blaze debut at goal-shooter, replacing the skilful Ky-Mani Schwenke, and NSW regional emerging talent squad player Mia Evans subbed in for Emily Dunn at goal-attack - as the fresh legs helped stretch the lead to 35-19 at the main break.
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The second half saw Loy return at wing-attack replacing Abbey Baker, Chadrawy moved out to goal-defence giving Jessica Bowden a rest, and Chloe Burden came on in goal keeper, with head coach Regan Tweddle getting all of her 12 named players out on the court in the first game of the year.
A few more substitutes in the quarter to bring on fresh legs showed the versatility of the team and helped Blaze notch up a 43-23 lead quickly.
With five minutes to go, the Mackenzie Farrow/Emily Dunn combination in the shooting circle dominated.
Jess Bowden returning earlier in goal defence turned over ACT's last centre pass of the quarter, for a 49-29 third-quarter break score.
The under 23s reverted to their starting line up for the start of the fourth quarter, albeit with a couple of positional swaps, increasing the lead out to 25 goals in just over two minutes.
Sharnee Behr turned it on with a beautiful centre pass intercept and some further defensive pressure from Aimee Landrigan and Jessica Bowden in and around the Spirit's shooting circle helped Blaze to further increase the lead.
The attack ended with Ky-Mani Schwenke, Emily Dunn, Bronnee Loy and Abbey Baker worked hard to make it look easy, pushing the score to a 62-32 lead halfway through the final term.
The ever swift and accurate Dunn made way for Evans to return and Blaze kept pushing out the lead, with the latter sinking a solid penalty shot on the final whistle for a 73-34 win.
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In the open's game on Wednesday night, the Blaze took an early 7-4 advantage against the Spirit, with South Coast debutant Tegan Holland making life difficult at the back with tight marking.
The Blaze then applied full-court pressure to be up 11-5 with five minutes to go. Consistent shooting from Abbey McFadden and Kristina Brice helped to grow the lead.
Lauren Russell made her Blaze debut at goal defence in the closing stages of the first quarter, replacing Te-Arn Bradley, as the Blaze led 19-8 at quarter time.
Tegan Holland started the second quarter the way she finished the first - with a flurry. Both teams went goal for goal in the first five minutes, with Shelby Mallon then coming back on at goal-attack.
Peti Talanoa made her first appearance of the season at goal-keeper with five minutes to go, going up against former teammate Makunde.
This saw Blaze finish the quarter up 33-21.
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Blaze reverted back to their starting seven for the second half before Chaise Vassallo replaced Taylah Davies at wing attack, and the latter moved into centre.
Up 40-27, former Panther Danielle Di Bartolo made her Blaze debut at goal attack and showed some deft touches to Kristina Brice, with South Coast finishing the third quarter up 47-31.
In the final quarter, Brice took a seat for Mallon to partner Di Bartolo in the shooting circle.
Bradley pulled down a strong rebound early, but Blaze couldn't capitalise, while Elecia Parrott continued to do a mountain of work at wing defence - the only player to have kept the same bib.
Spirit scored four goals on the trot to cut the margin to 47-34 in the first three minutes.
It was over three minutes before Mallon scored the first fourth-quarter goal for Blaze.
Te-Arn Begley returned to centre with six minutes to go at 53-40. Di Bartolo was on fire from long range, scoring goal 55 for Blaze.
Peti Talanoa replaced Holland at goal keeper with just over four minutes to play. Blaze played a strong defensive unit game, allowing a nice pick off for Parrott.
Although the Spirit came home strong, the Blaze secured the double win with the final score being 58-47.
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