Trinidad and Tobago Calypso ladies romped to a 65-51 win over Barbados’ Bajan Gems when the Americas Federation of Netball Associations [AFNA] World Cup Qualifiers championship match concluded last night at the Sir Garfield Sobers Wildey, Gymnasium.
Heading into the seventh and decisive championship match yesterday, both Barbados and Trinidad had already played six unbeaten games to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool which made the final contest a bragging rights affair.
The Bajan Gems ended with 12 points for second position behind Trinidad and Tobago on 14 and Grenada ten. Up until half-time the local side held their own but lost that energetic flow coming up against the tenth rank Calypso team who are two places above Barbados.
The opening 15-minute stanza tied at 15-15 and signalled that umpires Wayne Benti of St Lucia and Tracey-Ann Griffith of Jamaica were in for four busy allotted quarters with their whistles. There was no telling to which side the momentum would flow until Trinidad and Tobago’s player/coach Rhonda John-Davis, one of a few esteemed players to play five consecutive world cups, led the visitors’ surge to a marginal four-goal 30-26 advantage at halftime. This lead was increased to 48-37 in the penultimate quarter en route to victory.
Latonia Blackman, national captain and Barbados’ most decorated player of all time with over a hundred caps, showed her class on home soil with a perfect shooting score of 25 goals inside the semicircle along with 15 goals from goal-attack Nikita Piggott-Payne off 18 attempts.
Payne was later replaced in the third quarter by 17-year-old Briana Holder, the daughter of former national top shooter Margaret Cutting who is assistant to Bajan Gems head coach Sandra Bruce- Small. Holder accumulated 11 goals and fell one short of a perfect score with 12 attempts.
Bruce- Small and her management team comprising Cutting along with Adrian Craigwell, had their work cut out for them considering the Bajan Gems lost seasoned goalkeeper Shonette Azore- Bruce to illness at halftime and goal-shooter Shonica Wharton who was in tears from the sideline having had to sit out the entire match.
Barbados made several substitutions in the second half and despite Blackman, Payne and Holder giving it their all in the semicircle, the aggression, speed, agility and ability of Trinidad and Tobago’s defence to turn quickly oftentimes beat Barbados. And once that ball reached Trinidad and Tobago’s six-foot goal-shooter Samantha Wallace there wasn’t much that Barbados’ experienced goalkeeper Azore-Bruce or her replacement in the second half Shonte Seale who moved from goal-defence [taken up by Tonisha Rock-Yaw] was able to do about it.
Wallace who plays professionally for New South Wales Swifts in Australia made several attractive shots for a total of 39 goals from 41 attempts, and goal-attack Kalifa McCollin registered 26 goals having freed her arms for 28 attempts.
In the original starting seven for the Bajan Gems, vice-captain Damisha Croney played wing-attack, Amanda Knight was at center, but with things not going according to plan, coach Bruce- Small opted to bring on Sabreena Smith at wing-attack and share the center bib between Croney and Knight who took turns in the third and fourth quarters respectively. The only other position that remained unchanged was wing-defence Teresa Howell who had her hands full in the defensive third trying to keep up with the pace of Trinidad and Tobago’s offence which got away at times because of Barbados’ failure to mark properly.
Bruce- Small said after the game that Bajan Gems had practised hard and had a strategy that did not bear fruit because of those illnesses that forced them to readjust their gameplan. She explained that the intention was to let Blackman play defence but then after those unforeseen circumstances they had to start with her at goal-shoot.
“We had really practised and had a different set-up than you saw. Just before we came out onto the court, our goal-shooter and our goalkeeper fell ill. But the goalkeeper decided that as a senior player she would still try to give the team a good start, we had to make some adjustments quickly. The captain [Blackman] was going to play at defence, we had to bring her back to shoot and make those adjustments. But all in all, I am proud of the girls after having to make those adjustments against this tough Trinidad team,” Bruce- Small said.
Last night’s game was physical, and the national coach explained that the Bajan Gems between now and the World Cup next year would be working on that aspect of their game. “At the international level players are super fit, so you challenge basically for every ball, so it is very tough. This is something the girls definitely have to get accustomed to. Quite a few of them have played at that level, they know what is expected,” she said.