Souths coach Tracey van Dal credited Lions' "never give up" attitude as they staged a stunning fourth-quarter fightback to beat West Leagues Balance 39-35 in Newcastle championship netball at National Park on Saturday.
Both teams were unbeaten after three starts heading into the round-five clash and the win elevated Souths to 13 points and gave them the outright competition lead.
Souths made a strong start to lead 14-10 at the first change then 23-15 at half-time. But West, who were able to use goal attack and NSW Swifts Academy player Tarsha Hawley for half the match but were without shooter Maddie Taylor, turned an eight-goal half-time deficit into a 29-27 lead heading into the final quarter.
"To be able to come from behind against a quality team like that, that just shows the true Souths character," van Dal said. "We just dig deep and never give up and that showed in the last quarter.
"It was great to get a good lead against a team like that but it was even more pleasing to come from behind against a top-quality side.
"Our full-team defence in the last quarter allowed Nakita Jackson, our goalkeeper, to pull off a lot of great intercepts."
It was the first time van Dal had been able to used Jackson, who played the second half, this campaign due to NSW Premier League commitments.
Former national league centre Narelle Eather was in doubt for the top-of-the-table encounter with an Achilles injury but took the court and lasted the duration for Souths.
"I made a couple of positional changes at half-time and we took a little bit to adjust to those changes and we lost our way a bit in attack," van Dal said.
"They increased the physicality of the game and we did not deal with that very well and we lost our composure. At three-quarter time, we just went back to our game plan and went back to what we do best. We made some changes in that last quarter and had a good hard-fought win. It was just a great game of netball.
"We drew even maybe about halfway through that last quarter then got our nose to the front probably about three-quarters through and just managed to keep it together for the last couple of minutes of the game."
The loss left West on 11 points and level standing with round-five winners University of Newcastle and Inner Glow.
University recovered from a slow start to win 60-41 against Nova Thunder (9), who slipped out of the top four to fifth. University trailed 11-10 at the end of the first quarter but were up 27-25 at half-time then 42-34 at the final change.
University coach Traci Baber said the win came through "a full team effort".
"We started very, very slowly and at one stage through the first quarter I think we were six down," Baber said. "They came out a little bit more wanting than we did and I think it took us a little bit by surprise. But I was happy with the fightback.
"We had a bit of a chat at half-time about how we were probably lacking in our full-court defence in the first half. [Nova goal shooter] Brooke [Fennings] is such a target and the ball was going in fairly easy, so it was up to the midcourt to get some hands up and over ball and they absolutely did it. The third quarter was a really good quarter for us. We did what we were asked and when we got turnovers we executed them really well and pretty much scored from them.
"It was a much tougher game than what that score would say. But I was super happy because I don't think two years ago we would've come back from that first quarter. Angela Williams and Sophie Hickling and our circle defence were stand-outs again. They've definitely been the backbone of our three wins. In the beginning the girls weren't rewarding them but after 10 minutes they were."
Inner Glow produced a pivotal third quarter in which they outscored Junction Stella (5) by nine goals in their 45-39 win.
Inner Glow led 7-6 at the first change but Junction Stella took a 24-18 lead into the main break before Inner Glow regained control to be ahead 32-29 at three-quarter time.
Inner Glow coach Dwight Graham said while it was not his team's best performance of the season it was an important win as they prepare to face big guns Souths, West and University in their next three outings.
"The Junction have a new shooter that has come from BNC and she was fantastic," Graham said. "Her and the goal attack combined really well and we struggled against them.
"I used Aela Streatfield in the second half and she made a difference. She played goal shooter in the third quarter and goal attack in the fourth and she was outstanding all game.
"It was a hot day so I just kept changing my midcourt and just kept them fresh and I think that probably helped a little bit in the second half."
Kotara South (5) led at every break to post their first victory of the season by beating BNC Whanau (4) 61-44.
The Tigers were up 16-13 at quarter-time, 26-21 at half-time and 43-34 heading into the final quarter.
Kotara South player-coach Rachel Gardner was pleased to seal their first win after being close in their other matches.
"I was confident we could beat them but we did go into the game with literally no regular circle defenders," Gardner said.
"We brought Brytne Bunnett from goal attack down to goal defence and she was a superstar. And we brought two girls up from the opens team, so we had Emily Taylor and Jacqui Hawthorne and they were phenomenal at the back.
"The young ones stepped up and were solid. It was a really good team effort and I feel like we got better at capitalising as the game went on. We really built into the game well."
Round five results:
Souths beat West Leagues Balance 39-35. Q1: Souths led 14-10; Q2: Souths led 23-15; Q3: West led 29-27.
University of Newcastle beat Nova Thunder 60-41. Q1: Nova led 11-10; Q2: University led 27-25; Q3: University led 42-34.
Kotara South beat BNC 61-44. Q1: Kotara South led 16-13; Q2: Kotara South led 26-21; Q3: Kotara South led 43-34.
Inner Glow beat Junction Stella 45-39. Q1: Inner Glow led 7-6; Q2: Junction Stella led 24-18; Q3: Inner Glow led 32-29.
Points: Souths 13, West, University of Newcastle 11, Inner Glow 11, Nova 9, Kotara South 5, Junction Stella 5, BNC Whanau 5.
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