SINGAPORE - Facing their fiercest rivals Malaysia at the M1 Asian Netball Championship on Thursday (Sept 6) with the chips down, Singapore finally produced a confident and assured performance to win 56-55 and avoid defeat for the third time in a row.
Fittingly, it was the new-look team's youngest player Lee Pei Shan who epitomised this much-improved display at the OCBC Arena.
The 18-year-old's shooting was impeccable as she scored 33 goals from 35 attempts and wreaked havoc on the Malaysian defence near the goal with her physical presence.
"Malaysia are a team who give a lot of contact so I needed to be mentally prepared to take in the ball strongly no matter how hard they pushed me," said the 1.86m goal-shooter.
"It was important for me to do that because if I am a threat in the semi-circle (near the goal) I can lure off two defenders and my team-mates can throw the lob passes in to me."
National head coach Natalie Milicich's mood was much improved after the game as well.
"Pei Shan is still very young but she's slowly growing into this competition. We trusted her to take that ball strongly and she really stepped up today," said the New Zealander.
"For the team, there were still a few moments when we were inefficient with the ball but on the whole we did a lot better today. We had an honest conversation last night (after losing to Hong Kong) about achieving our goals and I think that was one of the reasons we improved."
The fight and composure that had been sorely lacking in two previous defeats by Sri Lanka and Hong Kong was evident from the first quarter against Malaysia, won by Singapore 16-13.
Malaysia brought a similarly bruising approach to the game as that of Hong Kong the day before but Singapore proved a tougher nut to crack this time.
The supply to goal-shooter Lee before this game had been wayward at best but a long lob pass from goal-attack Charmaine Soh that set up Lee perfectly with 8min 22sec in the third quarter showed that the team had found a way to recalibrate.
"The biggest difference today was that we really stayed focused for the whole 60 minutes, did the basics right and didn't try too many things that were 50-50," said wing-attack Kimberly Lim, 23.
"Credit to our shooters too - they really took it very hard in there today."
The result means that Singapore, with one win and two losses, move on as the third seeds to Saturday's semi-finals and another meeting with defending champions Malaysia.
Sri Lanka beat Hong Kong 71-48 in the earlier game to claim the top seeding for the semi-finals with three wins out of three.
Hong Kong, who also have one win and two losses, settled for the bottom seeding with an inferior goal difference to Singapore and will face Sri Lanka again in the semi-finals.