Central Coast Heart have confirmed their place in the Samsung Premier League grand final, after a tight 59-57 victory over the ERNA Hawks.
Eastwood Ryde finished just a single win above Central Coast in the regular season, but the playoff match fell in favour of the Hearts, who had to deal with the loss of key defender Laura Rodger earlier in the week after she was withdrawn from the Greater Open Championship grand final with an injured ankle.
The team was also missing Newcastle’s Natarlia Bridges through a personal absence, with 18-year-old Demi Evans – who regularly plays at centre in her netball career – slotting into the defensive circle.
Central Coast head coach Amber Cross praised the youngster for her “talents” in defence, especially considering she had no idea that position was awaiting her on Wednesday evening.
“Evans was pretty much thrown into the deep end on the night, she didn’t know she’d be playing defence until she turned up on the night,” Cross explained. “Full kudos to her for stepping up and showing that she could do it on the big stage.”
Cross also pointed to Heart’s shooters as a major part of the two-goal win, with Amy Wild and Novocastrian star Maddie Taylor shooting “above 95 per cent” for the match.
“Maddie was good as always, and gave us that great target at the back of the court to aim for,” Cross explained. “Wild also stepped up, she was up against strong challenges and they ended up having to make defensive changes to deal with her because she was playing that well.”
“They both really gave it their all and it made a huge difference for us.”
Despite the reinforcements that came in for Central Coast shining in the match, Cross admitted there were a few concerns with fitness towards the back end of the clash, with Heart losing “a bit of control” after having a strong lead for the first three quarters.
“We only had eight so it was nearly a barebones squad for the match, and it definitely showed at the end,” she said.
“The whole team played so well together, but just in the final quarter we let it slip away a little and that made the scoreline seem a bit closer than it had felt the whole rest of the game.”
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Heart now await the results of the preliminary final next Wednesday evening between Eastwood Ryde and the Manly Warringah Sapphires.
No matter who emerges from the preliminary final clash, Cross believes Heart has what it takes to “go all the way”.
“If we can play our own game and not get caught up in how the other team wants to play then we can definitely win,” Cross said.
“We know that we have Hawks’ number now and would be confident against them.
“Manly are a different beast, they beat us by 10 last time we played them so it would be interesting to face them in the final. Like I said though, last time we faced them we followed their lead and if we avoid that and stick to our plan we will be fine.”
The Central Coast under 20s squad – boasting Newcastle’s Hannah Cullen, Eliza Hand, Nikita Jackson and Danielle Taylor – also recorded a finals victory on Wednesday evening, winning 46-40 against Manly Warringah.
The junior Heart team now face GWS Fury on September 19 for a spot in the under 20s grand final.
Watch the NSW Semi-Final between ERNA and Central Coast