T&T's Samantha Wallace became only the third player in the Suncorp Super Netball League history and the second this season to surpass the 2,000 goals milestone when she led defending champions New South Wales Swifts to a narrow 57-54 triumph over Adelaide Thunderbirds in the penultimate round of regular-season matches at Cairns Pop Up Arena in Australia, on Saturday.
The 26-year-old Wallace, the league's reigning Grand Finals reigning "MVP" scored 25 goals from 28 attempts and added one "Super Shot" from three attempts as the Swifts rallied from a 42-43 deficit at the end of the third quarter to win the final 15-minutes period 15-11 for the win.
Individually, the Toco-born Wallace took her season tally to 432 goals from 491 attempts on the season and remained in the third spot overall in the league behind Jamaicans Jhaniele Fowler of West Coast Fever (741 from 788 attempts) and Firebirds’ Aiken (490/582), while Sunshine Coast Lightning’s Cara Koenen (431/484) and Sunshine Coast Lightning’s Lenize Potgieter (403/430) are fourth and fifth, respectively.
However, more significantly, the Toco-born T&T standout passed the 2,000 goals milestone in the SSN and now has amassed a four-year tally 2,012 goals from 2,230 attempts and joined Fowler who achieved the feat in Round 8, and Australian legend Caitlin Bassett as the three players to have achieved the feat thus far in the competition's history.
Assured of a finals berth, the Swifts should have put away the seventh-placed Adelaide team but instead gave coach Briony Akle some headaches ahead of next weekend's closing round.
The Swifts lost four of their past five matches before the north Queensland road trip and had their confidence further dented by Adelaide, who found strength in midcourt led by rising playmakers Maisie Nankivell and Georgie Horjus.
It took a final quarter surge from goal attack and England international Helen Housby with 22 goals from 23 attempts, and brave milking of possession in the dying seconds to hold off the Thunderbirds with substitute Sophie Garbin adding eight goals from nine attempts for the winners who stormed to a 19-12 first-quarter advantage before being outscored 16-11 in the next stanza for a slim 30-28 lead at the half-time whistle.
Akle would have been proud of her team's composure at the finish but concerned about a lack of urgency in the middle quarters and knocks to Housby and circle partner Wallace.
"That was super tough. We always knew the Thunderbirds were going to come back," Swifts centre Paige Hadley said.
"Leading into the finals we like matches like that to prepare us for tough games.
"More teams are going to come at us because we are the reigning champions. We need to develop the belief that we can do it again."
The absence of captain Maddy Proud with a neck injury could have been a drama for the Swifts, but with Hadley in charge, they started with a flurry.
Hadley set the standard for midcourt work rate with 13 goal assists, 16 feeds, an intercept and a pickup as the Swifts took command in the first quarter.
She was the shining light in the centre third, finishing with 24 assists and 42 feeds.
The Swifts' early dominance did not last. Adelaide's South African goal shooter Lenize Potgieter who ended with 33 goals from 34 attempts did not miss a shot in the first half and teammate Samantha Gooden (6/9) landed three of her four Suncorp Super Shots to carve the difference to just two goals.
Adelaide crept out to a lead late in the third term and injected captain Chelsea Pitman off the bench in the final quarter, but the Swifts were clinical when the game was on the line, to register their eighth win in 13 matches and first in four matches for 32 points and the fourth on the table, two points behind West Coast Fever while Sunshine Coast lightning has 36 points in the battle for the second spot with one match left for each club.
Melbourne Vixens sits at the top with 42 points from 12 matches and faced Queensland Firebirds last night ahead of their final league clash with Lightning while Swifts entertain already eliminated Giants Netball on September 26.