Grace Balsdon and England hockey on the cusp of history at Commonwealths
Canterbury’s Grace Balsdon and England women’s hockey team are on the cusp of history after defeating New Zealand in a shootout to reach the Commonwealth Games gold medal match.
Goalkeeper Maddie Hinch was the hero once again as she produced another unbeatable display when it mattered as the hosts avenged their semi-final defeat to New Zealand four years ago.
A hard-fought and often fractious contest was unable to provide a winner in regular time, with neither side able to find the breakthrough at a raucous University of Birmingham.
But Isabelle Petter and Hannah Martin both scored for the hosts in the shootout while Hinch saved all four of New Zealand’s attempts to spark wild celebrations.
England’s women are now just one win away from a first Commonwealth Games title after previously winning bronze at Gold Coast 2018 and silver at Glasgow 2014.
“Those sort of occasions are what keepers, and hopefully young goalkeepers, are inspired by,” said Hinch, who also helped Great Britain win Olympic gold at Rio 2016.
“To do it on a platform like that, with that home crowd, really gives you that extra bit of belief. I tried to go out there with no regrets. It’s a lottery sometimes but it went in our favour today.
“I’d done a bit of homework. Sabbie [Heesh], our number two goalkeeper, did an incredible job with some scouting for a bit of extra information.
“New Zealand have been off the scene for a while so I didn’t have as much as I hoped but I had to trust my process and instinct, having done this a lot of time.
“I had to calm my nerves and stay in the moment. I have to believe they might fear me. I wanted to stay in it and force them to score good ones.
“I’m definitely towards the back end of my career now and this is something I’ve been desperately wanting in my career and been so close to a couple of times.
“Whatever the outcome now, as long as we go out there and put in an incredible 60-minute performance, we can be proud of what we’ve achieved already.”
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, comprises of over 400 athletes, all vying for medal success.
England’s women had swept all before them to finish top of Pool A and set up the clash with the defending champions, who beat the hosts 3-1 in last month’s World Cup.
The hosts made a bright start at the sun-drenched University of Birmingham, with Giselle Ansley firing just wide from an early penalty corner before Holly Hunt also went close.
Momentum continued to swing back and forth throughout the contest but neither side was able to find the winner in an end-to-end final ten minutes as it finished 0-0 at the final whistle.
It was then the turn of Hinch to rise to the occasion, saving all four attempts as Petter and Martin delivered the winning blows, leaving captain Hollie Pearne-Webb ecstatic.
“Incredible, in front of a home crowd. This is my third Commonwealth Games semi-final and we've played New Zealand every time and we've gone to shuffles every single time,” she said.
“It’s turned into a bit of a habit but I've been on both ends of it before this so I'm glad to come out on top in front of a home crowd today. However, we're not here for a silver medal.”
England will take on Australia for Commonwealth Games gold after the four-time champions defeated India 3-0 in their own shootout after the match finished 1-1 in regular time.
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