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LIGHTNING CLAIM SUNCORP SPIRIT CUP AGAINST FIREBIRDS

A THIRD-quarter blitz has lifted Sunshine Coast Lighting to victory over the Queensland Firebirds in Saturday’s sold-out Suncorp Spirit Cup in Townsville.

Trailing the Firebirds by seven at halftime, the Lightning won the third term 27-9 to snatch control of the game on their way to a 71-53 win.

The victory means Lightning take hold of the Suncorp Spirit Cup for the first time after the Firebirds won the inaugural pre-season clash in Mackay in 2022 and last year’s game in Toowoomba was tied.

North Queensland product Sasha-May Flegler was thrown into the contest from the start with the 18-year-old Firebirds’ training partner lining up against Lightning star recruit and Australia Diamonds captain Liz Watson in the mid-court.

Despite conceding the first three goals, the Firebirds rallied with a pair of two-point Super Shots by Tippah Dwan ensuring the Firebirds held an 18-12 lead at the first break.

The quarter also offered a chance for some on-court experience for Lightning training partner Jada Delaney as she came on in defence for Sunshine Coast.

The Lightning again came out strong at the start of the second term, cutting the margin to just one point but not even a late Steph Fretwell Super Shot could stop the Firebirds extending their lead to be up 34-27 at the main break.

Firebirds Head Coach Bec Bulley opted to give her full squad a run in the third term with fellow training partners Ali Miller and Rylee Burns joining Flegler on the court.

The more-experienced Lightning line-up pounced however, with Courtney Bruce superb at the back, earning multiple gains as they pulled ahead and then took charge of the game.

Reilley Batcheldor came on for Magnetic Island product Cara Koenen midway through the term and showed great touch with multiple Super Shots as the Lightning surged to hold an 11-point lead at the final turn.

With their lead established, the Lightning held firm in the final term as Fretwell and Batcheldor continued to combine well in the goal square while Maddie Hinchcliffe, Ava Black and Leesa Mi Mi ably assisted Bruce and Watson in the remaining two thirds despite a late rally from the Firebirds.

The 2024 Suncorp Spirit Cup was made possible due to a grant from Townsville City Council.

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