MYSTICS TO PLAY VIXENS IN MAJOR SEMI-FINAL
The Northern Mystics will play the Melbourne Vixens in the Major Semi-final after delivering a tense 50-49 win over the NSW Swifts in Auckland last night
With top spot out of reach, the Mystics needed the win in the last round of the regular season to secure second place, and with it an extra life in the play-offs. For the Swifts, it was the last throw of the dice, the visitors needing a win to have any chance of progressing.
A strong start and finish, including bold changes, got the Mystics home after the tenacious Swifts held the edge through the middle stages.
Under an injury cloud all week following a calf injury, influential defender Anna Harrison failed to pass muster for the Mystics while the Swifts opted for Carla Dziwoki (goal shoot) and Susan Pratley to pair up in goal.
The Mystics started off at a frantic pace to gain the early edge, the home team’s momentum on attack highlighted by Cathrine Latu’s strong presence under the hoop. The imposing shooter was in dominant form with her availability, accuracy and clever off-loads while Harrison’s replacement Rachel Rasmussen proved her effectiveness with a staunch defensive contribution, helping the home team head to the first break with their noses in front at 13-10.
The Mystics continued to find an easy passage to the circle through the assured hands of Jade Clarke and Temepara George while the Swifts in comparison couldn’t match that fluency but hung on as the pair went toe-to-toe before the stalemate prompted changes from the visitors.
On the back of an impressive season and as the go-to-girl for the Swifts, Pratley moved back to goal shoot while Amy Wild came off the bench to fill goal attack midway through the second stanza. The changes had an immediate impact, Pratley opening up the circle while Wild’s speed giving the team more impetus on attack.
Biding their time, the Swifts patience paid off with Pratley returning a perfect 18 from 18 for the first half while the abrasive defensive duo of Sonia Mkoloma and Mo’onia Gerrard shut down Latu’s supply.
In an increasingly physical clash, the changes continued to pay dividends for the visitors. Midcourters Kim Green and Vanessa Ware cut a swathe on attack, a couple of decisive turnovers handing the Swifts a five-goal turnaround as they went to the break with a 27-25 lead.
With the Swifts unable to maintain their shooting accuracy on the resumption, the home team roared back to level the scores within four minutes. With all the ingredients of a grand final, the intensity levels raised to new heights, any error proving highly costly.
There were several momentum swings through a pulsating third stanza with each team having their moments but the patience of the Swifts proved the key ingredient. The Mystics were undone by moments of inaccuracy while the impeccable timing and finishing of Pratley and Wild in the visitors’ circle pushed the Swifts out to a 39-35 lead at the last break.
The tide turned once more in a thrilling run home, the Mystics gambling with five positional and personnel changes which worked a treat. Defenders Rasmussen and Jess Moulds hauled in valuable intercept and rebound ball as the home team regained their flow and momentum.
Latu and Maria Tutaia did their job at the other end, clinching their shots under intense pressure to level the scores and then nudge the Mystics in front with six minutes to go.