By Adam Clifford
Brisbane Blaze Men’s team cemented top spot, while the Women’s Team put one foot into next weekend’s Finals Main Event after recording tightly fought victories over a gallant Adelaide Fire in front of a rousing atmosphere at the Queensland State Hockey Centre.
The Hannah Cullum-Sanders show rolled on as the Brisbane Blaze defeated the Adelaide Fire 2-0 in a gripping final round encounter has kept their hopes of earning a ticket to the Main Event in Bendigo.
It was a commanding midfield performance from the Blaze, but it was a nervous watch for the home fans as their dominance in general field play failed to materialise on the scoreboard.
That was largely down to the heroics of USA international goalkeeper Kelsey Bing, who repeatedly used her speed of movement, particularly at ground level, to deny the Blaze’s scoring opportunities.
Player of the Match Rosie Malone felt like it was another positive step forward for the Blaze who were winless after the opening two matches of the season.
“I think we really built our performance tonight and throughout the tournament we’ve been really building, and I think each player individually has been progressively getting better,” Rosie Malone said post-match.
“It’s nice to actually come to the backend of the season and be creating so many opportunities for our team upfront and play so well from the back to the front half of the ground.”
The Blaze will now have a nervous watch of Saturday afternoon’s clash between NSW Pride and Canberra Chill, with a penalty shootout win for the Chill a possible result that could end the defending champion’s campaign.
“It sucks that it has to come down to a game tomorrow to decide if we’re in the finals,” Malone admitted.
“I think a lot of the teams are nervous about us. I heard that the chatter from all the girls from teams in Perth was for all the girls telling Adelaide to knock us out of finals, so I think that they can see that we’re getting better.”
“I just hope that one of the teams tomorrow can pump the other and we’ll be through to the finals in Bendigo because I think we’re going to put on a show if we get there.”
The early exchanges by Bing who denied Sav Fitzpatrick and Cullum-Sanders either side of opposing goalkeeper Jordan Bliss seeing off a penalty corner chance for the Fire.
Miss USA then returned to deny Morgan Gallagher with her helmet with a clutch penalty corner save, but even Bing could do nothing to stop Tatum Stewart’s penalty stroke goal after 28 minutes.
The keeper prowled Malone in her conversion attempt, with an eventual tomahawk chance skimming the outside of the upright.
The strong home crowd then rose to their feet early in the third term when Cullum-Sanders scored a late nomination for goal of the season.
The emerging star was in full flight bursting from the half-line beyond three defenders before launching a diving tomahawk finish into the far corner to make it 2-0.
Bing responded to deny the conversion opportunity with a smart stick save.
The Fire’s Gabi Nance continued to be a thorn in the Blaze’s side, but down the other end Bing was again called upon to deny Britt Wilkinson.
To demonstrate Bing’s herculean efforts, the final scoring opportunity count numbered 22-4 at the final whistle, whilst the Blaze did enough to send an ominous warning for their rivals should their title defence be extended into the post-season.
Brisbane Blaze 2 (Stewart 28’, Cullum-Sanders 36’)
Adelaide Fire 0
Friday 11 November 2022
Queensland State Hockey Centre
Umpires: Kerryl Brown & Tara Leonard
Brisbane Blaze Women’s team: 1.Savannah Fitzpatrick, 2.Ambrosia Malone, 3.Casey Dolkens, 4.Ashlea Fey, 5.Morgan Gallagher (c), 7.Hannah Cullum-Sanders, 12.Tatum Stewart, 13.Rebecca Greiner, 14.Meg Pearce, 19.Morgan Mathison, 22.Britt Wilkinson, 24.Claire Colwill, 25.Kyra Livermore, 30.Georgina West, 88.Jordan Bliss (gk)
Adelaide Fire Women’s team: 1.Linzi Appleyard, 4.Chloe Carter, 5.Kelsey Bing (gk), 8.Holly Evans-Gill, 10.Carly Hoffmann, 11.Lucy Sharman, 13.Sarah Harrison (c), 16.Jet Mallinson, 18.Erin Cameron, 19.Gabi Nance, 20.Hattie Shand, 21.Miki Spano, 23.Izzy Gill, 24.Kirra-Lee Pavy, 30.Julia King
The Brisbane Blaze have claimed the Sultana Bran Hockey One League minor premiership after emerging from an arm wrestle to defeat a gallant Adelaide Fire 2-1 on home soil.
In a match that had little say in the table’s overall makeup, Brisbane fans were treated to an enthralling contest that went down to the wire.
The power of Joel Rintala from the set piece was on full display as he scored against impressive Fire goalkeeper Christian Starkie to move to eight goals for the league season so far.
“It feels good to get the win. It was a bit of hard work us; we played a bit scrappy giving them heaps of turnovers, but we still got the win so we should be happy,” Player of the match Rintala said pitch side at the game’s conclusion.
“At least we got another win in and we can roll on into Bendigo hopefully and get some more wins.”
Earlier, the match had opened with an exciting electronic display bringing the players onto the pitch and the on-field fireworks instantly kicked off.
Brisbane opened the scoring in just the second minute from their second penalty corner attempt, with Rintala ripping a powerful flick into the top right-hand corner.
The Fire were emphatic in their response, as Jack Holland smashed a tomahawk strike beyond Blaze goalie Aaron Weiss after five minutes.
The debutant shot stopper responded beautifully, holding his position patiently before denying Holland’s conversion attempt.
Weiss had to remain alert to deny Isaac Whittaker’s sharp deflection from Fire skipper Glyn Tamlin’s crash circle entry.
Cale Cramer has been one of the stories of the season, but the goal machine was denied by a brave Matthew Magann on the last line of defence just moments before half-time.
The Blaze continued to be frustrated by Starkie and when Jake Whetton fired a reflex shot over the crossbar, they must have been starting to question their fortune.
But to quote commentator Sam Hargraves, “if you keep throwing catapults at a wall, it will eventually fall”. Rintala duly stepped up to from the penalty corner with Corey Weyer getting the faintest of touches to guide the ball in.
Rintala was then denied by the woodwork in the final term, before Angus Fry stung the palms of Weiss in a late chance at a leveller for the visitors.
The Blaze will now await the final results to learn their semi-final opponents for next Saturday in Bendigo, with Kookaburras star Daniel Beale and goalkeeper Mitch Nicholson set to return.
Brisbane Blaze 2 (Rintala 2’, Weyer 43’)
Adelaide Fire 1 (Holland 5’)
Friday 11 November 2022
Queensland State Hockey Centre
Umpires: Ben De Young & Arron Gotting
Brisbane Blaze Men’s team: 2.Shane Kenny, 3.Corey Weyer, 5.Lucas Brown, 7.Joel Rintala, 8.Adam Imer, 9.Jacob Anderson, 10.Jayden Atkinson, 11.Michael Francis, 12.Jake Whetton (c), 13.Ethan White, 15.Cale Cramer, 16.Tim Howard, 17.Scott Boyde, 18.Aaron Weiss (gk), 27.Jared Taylor
Adelaide Fire Men’s team: 2.Connor Richmond-Spouse, 3.Isaac Whittaker, 5.Jack Holland, 6.Angus Fry, 7.Geoff Abbott, 8.Brodie Gleeson, 9.Fred Gray, 11.Cameron Joyce, 14.Nathan Hochman, 15.William Abbott, 18.Alastair Oliver, 19.Glyn Tamlin (c), 20.Matthew Magann, 22.Christian Starkie (gk), 23.Cameron White