Spurs, Hummingbirds in highly competitive battle for BEL crown

Saturday, January 26, 2019

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The two “baddest” Berger Elite League (BEL) netball teams, defending champions Kingston Hummingbirds and Manchester Spurs, clash in Game Three of the best-of-three finals — the ultimate battle for this season's title — at the National Indoor Sports Centre today, beginning at 6:00 pm.

Plenty silverware awaits the champion in Netball Jamaica's semi-professional league, plus a first place cash award of $200,000 and medals. The runners-up will also receive medals, plus $130,000.

This championship play-off showdown is exciting, highly competitive and dead even after Kingston Hummingbirds won Game One 59-52 on Monday night and Manchester Spurs rallied to win Game Two 57-53 on Wednesday night.

It mirrors the very close matches each team played against the other in the preliminary series that also ended one-all, after Manchester Spurs won 53-51 and Kingston Hummingbirds 57-52.

Both teams are loaded with national players, most of whom are the high-quality shooters at either end of the court. On Wednesday they turned in a classy display that showed the capability and class that can make any a winner on any given day.

Manchester Spurs' talented Gezelle Allison was on top of her game scoring 41 points, which largely decided the outcome. Her team has another top-quality shooter, Anna Kay Griffiths, who can also win a match on her day.

The same holds for Kingston Hummingbirds' shooting trio of Sabrina Spence, whose conversion and scoring rate are generally high, which makes her a dangerous proposition. Shanice Beckford and Hasana Williams, who both missed only one attempt on Wednesday, are also very capable of high scoring performances.

That said, important factors such as controlling nerves will be crucial in dictating play and distracting the opposition into errors.

Hummingbirds made plenty errors and were lethargic at the start of each quarter on Wednesday. They ultimately paid the price with multiple turnovers and a nine-point half-time deficit that proved unassailable. Their Head Coach Winston Nevers wants those things to change.

“Saturday we'll have to start sharp to keep this because it looks like … although they have a lot of young players, it looks like our team is the fitter team because we continue to win the two last quarters every time,” said Nevers.

His team never got its accustomed high shooting percentage on Wednesday as Spence does not appear to have fully recovered from an ankle injury sustained at the back end of the preliminaries and is being handled fairly well by Manchester Spurs' Captain Tracey Ann Robinson and especially, Shannika “Bolt” Johnson, one of the leading defenders this season in the league.

Nevers pointed to her impact, saying: “What we need to do is just keep possession of the ball, shoot the ball … our shooter, Sabrina Spence, she isn't strong enough. “Bolt” continues to move her out of her comfort zone and that is the reason why she missed so many shots and did not get the ball like how she got it on Monday evening.”

There were not many things that Manchester Spurs did wrong on Wednesday and their Head Coach Connie Francis wants her team to repeat.

Asked about improvements for Saturday's finale, she said: “It's how we enter each quarter. I think we'll have to improve on that and how we keep stagnant. So we have to keep that rotation going and talk and continue to shoot well.”

The teams are also strong through mid court with Khadija Williams and Nicole “Girlie” Dixon leading the charge for Spurs and Paula Thompson, Williams and Beckford driving Hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds defeated Spurs 2-1 in last season's best-of-three finals to claim their second hold on the title. The Spurs have never won, just like the coaches as Nevers took over the Hummingbirds job this season, his first in the BEL.

“We can. I'm a very confident coach 'enuh' and I always say win,” said Nevers. “It doesn't make sense you go in a game and say you cannot win. I want to win and I'm going to win and we can win. So overall we've a very good team, Manchester has a very good team and so any one of those teams can win. But as a coach, I'm (saying I'm) going to win.”

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