Thursday, February 22, 2018

T&T face Barbados today in tri-series

...Beat Northern Ireland in opening match


TOP SCORER: Kalifa McCollin

Mark Fraser

Trinidad and Tobago will look to finish their netball tri-series today on a high when they meet Barbados for the third and final match of the series at Tacarigua’s Eastern Regional Sports Complex indoor court from 3 p.m.

Late yesterday the Barbadians, ranked eighth in the world, were locked in battle with Northern Ireland ahead of today’s match-up with the hosts at the same venue.

Northern Ireland—ranked 11th—would have been hoping to at least leave T&T (tenth) with a win after going down 51-39 to the home team at the Tacarigua court. But to T&T coach Wesley “Pepe” Gomes, his team’s real test will come against the Bajans.

T&T have improved since Gomes took control five months ago. Having played second fiddle to Barbados in recent years, they would be keen for victory, which would show significant progress for the 2014 “Calypso Girls”.

On Thursday night, the feisty, physical Irish jumped out to a four-point lead deep in the first quarter, and closed it out with a two-goal advantage, leading 14-12. But T&T began the second half with a surge to regain the lead and— despite the loss of wing attack Crystal-Ann George to injury—never relinquished it after that.

T&T stretched a 27-21 half-time lead to a nine-goal advantage by the end of the third quarter, when the scores read 40-31, and in spite of a wobble that saw them lose momentum, closed out proceedings with a 12-goal cushion.

The home crowd filled the arena, and saved their most lusty support for goal attack Kalifa McCollin, who came on for Joelisa Cooper at half-time. Cooper and goal defence Candice Guerrero, who played wing defence in the second half, both had strong performances for T&T, while goal shoots Janelle Barker (ten of 13 attempts) and Afeisha Noel (six of seven) both also had steady hands.

McCollin (18 of 21) topscored for T&T, while Cooper sank 17 goals (18 attempts).

Barker scored T&T’s first three goals in a spirited start, but got stuck as the Irish imposed themselves with quick movement. And errant passing saw the visitors spring to a 12-8 lead.

T&T pushed their noses in front early in the second quarter, but less than three minutes in, George went down hard going for a steal, and after a delay for treatment, had to be helped off. She was replaced by Tricia Liverpool.

Yesterday’s update was promising for George, who still has a chance to play in T&T’s subsequent tri-series late next month, when they and Namibia will be hosted by Scotland.

Said T&T coach Gomes: “[Crystal-Ann] went to the doctor this morning, and it’s not as bad as we thought. She won’t be able to play tomorrow.  She will be out for a couple weeks, best case scenario. But we thought it would have been months. In a couple weeks she should be there. The fact that she is a strong girl also helps.”

Still, T&T kept the tempo up, sensing that Northern Ireland were beginning to wilt in late evening conditions they would have considered hot. And the locals were in the ascendancy by the half.

It was all but over once T&T opened the gap to ten goals, before the Irish got their second wind and began to match T&T shot for shot. The main feature to their game was their physical presence, but it also worked against them as they conceded too many penalty shots.

Their most impressive player was exciting goal attack Oonagh McCullough, who seemed least hesitant to shoot and led the Irish with 20 goals from 33 attempts. Their other contributions came from goal shoots Noleen Lennon (nine of 15 and Lisa Somerville (ten of 19).

The one minor incident in the third quarter that caused a stoppage was a spill from Guerrero when she attempted to block a pass to her opposite number, Fionnuala Toner. The player, dissatisfied with officials’ reaction to a wet spot on the floor got irate and attempted to do so herself, until the toilet paper eventually emerged to clean up.

McCullough was part of the fourth-period fightback that saw the Irish come as close as five goals while the Barbadians sat in the stands and watched, before McCollin and company, with the crowd behind them, took the lead to 12, where it stayed.