Jamaica prune Reunited Roses in final game

IT took until a third game, but Jamaica finally clicked into gear against England, producing the best four-quarter performance of the entire Reunited Roses Series to win by 10 goals. Winning three of the four quarters and getting out to as much as a 13-goal lead at one point, the Sunshine Girls, led by bookends Shamera Sterling and Jhaniele Fowler won 63-53.

ENGLAND 11 | 13 | 16 | 13 (53)
JAMAICA 14 | 18 | 16 | 15 (63)

With the series wrapped up, England headed into the contest keen to mix a few things up and give other players court time. Though the starting seven largely started the same as it did in game two, this time there was no Beth Cobden, and instead Serena Guthrie was named at wing defence, with Laura Malcolm at centre. The Jamaicans revered back to their initial starting seven of game one given it had created some headaches for England before fading out in the second half.

The first quarter was effectively a shootout between Fowler and Eleanor Cardwell, with both goal shooters in ripping form. Despite an early turnover, England was able to win the ball back and Cardwell outsmarted Kadie-Ann Dehaney in the goal circle to give England the quick lead 3-1. Malcolm was using her terrific vision to find Cardwell, whilst up the other end, Khadijah Williams and Adean Thomas were putting the ball on Fowler’s head, making life impossible for Eboni Usoro-Brown and Layla Guscoth.

Fowler was able to single-handedly pour on the pressure despite being double-teamed, as the Jamaican defence, led by Sterling and Latanya Wilson was winning the ball in the back third. With scores back on level pegging, both teams made some errors through perceived and actual pressure, such as Serena Guthrie intercepting a ball from Jamaican goal attack Shanice Beckford, but then Dehaney read it brilliantly up the other end to tip it away. Sterling grabbed a crucial intercept and Beckford scored her first giving Jamaica its first decisive lead of the game.

Thomas twisted her ankle and looked in serious pain with just over four minutes remaining on the clock, having to be taken from the court. Shadian Hemmings replaced Thomas in centre. A perfect summation of the first quarter came late when Jo Harten looked to layup a pass to Cardwell close to the post, but Sterling read it perfectly, and intercept leading to another break. Fowler uncharacteristically missed a couple of shots late in the quarter, but the Sunshine Girls took a 14-11 lead into quarter time.

After slipping behind, England coach Jess Thirlby made the change of bringing Helen Housby in for Harten, with the rest of the teams remaining as is. The NSW Swifts shooter immediately had an impact, piling on five consecutive goals to level the scores at 16-apiece. The Jamaicans were not about to let the match slip away, with Fowler and Hemmings playing it well at the top of the circle and the high-volume shooter getting it done.

England was starting to work out a path to easy goals, with Housby pushing up to the top of the circle, and the defence losing Cardwell close to the post. At one point, Dehaney showed clear frustration at Sterling for not getting back, though it would be the only time one could fault Sterling’s performance. With just under four minutes remaining, Stacey Francis-Bayman came on for Usoro-Brown, with Fowler on top in the head-to-head after Usoro-Brown took the honours last game. Fowler had guided the Sunshine Girls to a four-goal lead off the work of the Jamaican defence, and more was to come.

Wilson was playing inspirationally at wing defence, and both her and Williams were working the connections through midcourt. England was looking a little unsure with its ball movement and Jamaica was taking full toll, piling on 16 goals to eight since Housby levelled the score at 16-apiece. Fowler shot a remarkable 18 goals in the term, five more than the Roses, to take Jamaica to a 32-24 lead at half-time.

The half-time stats suggested the teams were relatively even across the board, and Thirlby opted to give George Fisher her first go at goal shooter, with Imogen Allison coming into wing defence and Guthrie moved into centre with Malcolm coming off. Fisher scored in the first 20 seconds to settle her nerves and get into the game, but Housby missed a strange opportunity with a fresh air attempt not long after. Fowler was up to her old tricks with brilliant hands above Francis-Bayman to snatch the ball cleanly and keep piling on the pressure, as she would go on to score 16 goals for the term.

The Jamaican defensive end was playing on the edge, with the trio of Sterling, Dehaney and Wilson all receiving cautions, and then the latter copped a warning for persistent contact with 97 seconds remaining. Sunshine Girls coach Connie Francis was not willing to take any chances and brought off the wing defence and surprisingly on came Thomas who recovered from her earlier ankle injury. Jamaica still took a steady 48-40 lead into the final break after a 16-goal apiece quarter.

Wilson cooled off and returned to the court for the final stanza, and for all of England’s best efforts, Jamaica kept extending the lead off the hands of Fowler, and the outstanding defence. Sterling was a star throughout the match, and at one stage the lead had ballooned out to 13 goals at 58-45 when Beckford scored her first of the quarter. England was able to turn it around late, causing turnovers and getting it back to single digits, but the Jamaicans were able to bring on some youth late and give Fowler a rest. Amanda Pinkney scored a goal in a great experience for the youngster in the final minute, and whilst Fisher scored the last goal of the match, the score stood at 63-53 in favour of the Jamaicans following a 15-13 final term.

Sterling won Player of the Match for her outstanding defensive performance, though it was a true team effort for the Jamaicans who won a lot of the one-on-ones which could not have been said about the previous two games. Haythornthwaite earned Player of the Series across the three games, with both sides gaining some valuable court time ahead of the Commonwealth Games next year, and for England the Quad Series in January.

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