Mystics seal Grand Final spot

Northern Mystics sealed their first Grand Final appearance with a pulsating 43-42 win over Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic in the Preliminary Final in Hamilton on Sunday.

Contesting their first Finals Series, a big second quarter from the Mystics, provided the impetus for the win. It was the only quarter the Mystics won as Magic kept coming back at them but superior shooting percentages, with Maria Tutaia having an outstanding game, proved the difference in the end.

In the history of the competition, Mystics are the only team to have finished fourth in the regular season and advanced to the grand final where they will meet the unbeaten Queensland Firebirds, in Brisbane, next Sunday.

Magic welcomed back hard-working wing defence Peta Scholz, the Australian import being sidelined for the past two weeks with a knee in jury while Frances Solia, who had much of her season derailed by illness got the nod at wing attack. There were no surprises from the Mystics, talented teenager Kayla Cullen taking her place at goal defence after being troubled by a calf injury.

Magic made a perfect start playing patient, error-free netball as they secured the first three goals. Magics back three of Casey Williams, Jodi Tod and Scholz were impressive in slowing down the Mystics on attack. Threatening goal shoot Cathrine Latu was well-contained, having to wait 7-1/2 minutes before scoring her first goal but Tutaia picked up the slack, her radar well-honed to keep the visitors in touch.

At the other end, goal attack Julianna Naoupu provided impetus in the playmaking role for shooter Irene van Dyk, who was all poise under the hoop as Magic went to a 13-9 first quarter lead.

With irrepressible captain Temepara George leading the charge, Mystics lifted their intent on the resumption, scoring four goals on the trot to draw within one. Sparkling play on attack and slick interplay under the hoop helped them hit the lead for the first time with Tutaias finishing from long range pivotal.

Things became more difficult for Magic as they struggled to penetrate the Mystics suffocating midcourt defensive wall. Jess Tuki replaced Solia in Magics attacking line as fortunes ebbed and flowed before Mystics grabbed the initiative. Showing more spark in their play, the visitors achieved a nine-goal turn-around as they went to the main break with a 25-20 lead.

With Magics shooting falling away in the second quarter, Jamilah Gupwell replaced Naoupu for the second half as the home team stormed out of the blocks. The third quarter became a real battle of attrition, huge defensive pressure from both teams dictating the course of the match.

Cullen and Anna Scarlett proved a real thorn for Magics shooters while Williams and Tod had their moments at the other end. Tutaia continued to be the main point of difference with an exemplary showing under the Mystics post before the home staged a late quarter rally.

An injured Gupwell did not last long with Naoupu re-entering the fray as strong contributions from Williams, Scholz and Laura Langman kept Magic in the frame, Mystics keeping their noses in front 35-31 heading down the home straight.

In a last throw of the dice, Magic introduced teenaged defender Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick at goalkeeper with Williams going out to goal defence. The home team threw everything into a pulsating final quarter, slowly clawing back the deficit in a frantic and willing final quarter.

Mystics did just enough to hold them out — a couple of crucial intercepts from the ever-prominent Cullen and Scarlett and the overall play from an impressive Tutaia sealing a spot in the grand final.