The Northern Mystics have all but guaranteed themselves a finals berth in a tense, one-goal win over the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in Auckland on Monday night.

In the penultimate round of the inaugural ANZ Premiership, this game was crucial for both teams.  Sitting third and fourth respectively on the ladder, both teams needed a win to seal their place in the finals series. Despite both teams having played the afternoon before as part of ‘Super Sunday’, the zippy form of either team did away with any suggestions of fatigue. These teams were out to win.

The opening minutes of the match were telling of what was to be a scrappy, hard fought evening. Magic goal keeper Kelly Jury tipped the ball to her team only for it to be wasted by a throwaway pass in attack – both teams had identified their target in the goal circle. The Mystics were confident to give the ball to Maria Tutaia wherever she happened to be standing, while Bailey Mes held Jury under the ring to fight for rebounds. Magic, on the other hand, wanted to lob the ball into Lenize Potgieter with Monica Falkner running the circle edge, and left it up to Potgieter to maneuver herself into a strong position under the ring.

The Magic attack end were letting the ball go quickly, preferring to return to the transverse line and reset quickly rather than slow down and allow the Mystics defenders to get their bearings. They used triangles to their advantage and swung bullet passes across the circle, but couldn’t seem to find the final feed into the circle. Where the Magic was trying to force the ball onto the baseline, the Mystics were driving to the circle edge where they could feed the ball to Tutaia.

Both teams were making mistakes, but neither could consistently convert their turnover ball. Anna Harrison got one hand to the ball, but Potgieter chased it to the corner to get it back. Magic would convert a turnover, only to overcook their following centre pass. It was only at the halfway mark of the quarter where the triangles started to click for the the home side. Grace Rasmussen sliced through the space to find Potgieter and Falkner, who were matching Tutaia’s accuracy, and delivered a four-goal buffer. The zippy attacking give-and-go was working, and if not for a handy pick-up by Mystics goal defence Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Magic might have gotten on a roll. But Tutaia was instrumental, and a particularly great take by Elisapeta Toeava – balancing on one leg at the circle edge, followed up with a perfectly poised pass into Mes – brought the margin back to one goal at the first break.

The score see-sawed for the better part of the second quarter. The match-up between Casey Kopua and Tutaia was electric. Kopua was doing her best to wear down her old teammate and get her hand onto Tutaia’s high arching shot, while Tutaia kept calmly slotting the shots barely a step away from the circle edge.

An intercept from Ariana Cable-Dixon brought the Magic’s lead out to three, but a missed goal opportunity from Falkner minutes later allowed Tutaia to square the scores again. It was a messy quarter, as the Magic tried to maintain their slight control over the match while the Mystics wrestled for the lead. Cable-Dixon got another deflection, but the Mystics won it back. Tutaia missed, and Jury read the rebound perfectly.

The Mystics lost the ball because of bad hands, which gave the Magic a sniff at regaining the lead, but an offensive contact against Potgieter gave Mes the chance to leave the scores 29-all at the main break. This was a game of deflections, it would be the team that could tidy up their attacking play and collect clean intercepts in defence that would prosper in the second half.

Mystics coach Helene Wilson made the only change of the match and brought Storm Purvis into the game at Goal Keeper, sending Brooke Watt to the bench and allowing Anna Harrison to take the Wing Defence bib. While at first it seemed to make no difference, this was a smart move. Rasmussen had been instrumental in the midcourt, and by pitting Harrison against her, Harrison neutralised her effectiveness and was now able to intercept the loose ball around the transverse line.

A string of mistakes– two held ball calls, more turnover ball and missed shots – gave the Magic a surge out of defence to begin the quarter. In the attacking end, they were still reverting to the transverse line, but some perfectly pitted passes from Rasmussen and Cable-Dixon allowed the Magic to skip out to a six-goal buffer, the greatest lead of the match. The Mystics kept on keeping on, and once the ball was in the circle, Tutaia was unstoppable.

Mes started to come into the game through some great lob passes that found her on the baseline. Where the Magic was forcing the ball in attack, the Mystics were patient. When Waikato missed a shot and the ball bounced out of court, so began a chain of mistakes, and the Mystics had the first foothold on the climb back. Michaela Sokolich-Beatson spoiled a Magic pass with a perfectly timed outside hand, which pegged back two goals. Harrison got an intercept, which brought back two more. Another deflection to Sokolich-Beatson capped off a string of defensive plays that brought the score back to even, and then Tutaia delivered the Mystics the lead.

By this point, the Magic’s fearlessness in attack had slowed. The feeders were searching for Potgieter, who was now being double teamed, and often seemed to miss Falkner’s drives up the middle. With twenty five seconds on the clock, Sokolich-Beatson snatched the ball away once more, but the Mystics shooters were unable to capitalise leaving the Mystics with a one-goal lead at the final break.

While the Magic had held slight control over the match so far, now they were in catch-up mode and it didn’t suit them. Mes had well and truly come into the game for the Mystics, and started the quarter with a strong take on the baseline to put them two goals up. Sokolich-Beatson was deflecting the ball and chasing it down with incredible closing speed, which gave Tutaia another chance to flaunt her long shot.

Where transition ball had been a sore spot for the Mystics earlier in the game, now they were quick and punishing. A deflection from Toeava sparked the Mystics to pull out to a four-goal lead. Both teams traded goals, ticking down crucial minutes on the clock, until Rasmussen won a chance for the Magic to bring it back to two. But it was Sokolich-Beatson again, who was forcing the Magic to make mistakes and collecting every ball they let slip.

An intercept by Samantha Sinclair with less than five minutes on the clock was once again spoiled by Sokolich-Beatson on the rebound. Kopua was doing her best to foil Tutaia’s deadly accuracy, but even her incredible defensive stretch couldn’t put Maria off the shot. A missed pass by Toeava gave Magic their last chance, but a tap from Harrison foiled it. Her venture into the midcourt had paid dividends. Sinclair intercepted the ball in the final minute, but it was too late, leaving just eight seconds on the clock and the Mystics with an extra goal and the centre pass to come.

The Mystics now approach their final game against the Tactix knowing they have finals all but settled. Their final round will allow them to fine tune their combinations and decide what defensive strategy is strongest to combat their elimination final opponent.

They will be playing for both match points and a bonus point, which may be the difference between hosting the elimination final up North, or potentially having to travel South. Magic is now at the mercy of mathematics. They should account for the Northern Stars next week, but need the Central Pulse or the Mystics to drop their remaining matches or it will be Magic’s final game for the year.

Magic have always been the team that manages to sneak into the finals, but this year might be the first since 2002 that they don’t feature in the playoffs.

 

Northern Mystics 59 def Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic 58
Player of the Match: Maria Tutaia ( Mystics)

 

Northern Mystics
Mes 25/30 83%
Tutaia 34/42 81%
59/72 82%

Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
Potgieter 39/42 93%
Falkner 19/24 79%
58/66 88%

 

Key stats

Intercept
Sokolich-Beatson (Mystics) 3
Cable-Dixon (Magic) 2
Sinclair (Magic) 2

Deflections
Jury (Magic) 8
Harrison (Mystics) 7
Sokolich-Beatson (Mystics) 4

 

 

Twitter: @ninja_bslaughts