MYSTICS FLY THROUGH TO GRAND FINAL WITH ROUND 12 WIN OVER STARS
Sunday 21 May, 2023
Pulman Arena, Auckland
Full time MG Mystics 63 – Robinhood Stars 58
The MG Mystics are straight through to the grand final, earning a week off in the process and the Barfoot & Thompson Northern Challenge trophy after defeating the Robinhood Stars 63 to 58 at a sold-out Pulman Arena on Sunday.
A jubilant Stars side secured a bonus point coming within five points of the Mystics to give them an almost certain spot in the elimination final next week.
Despite the Mystics leading at every interval, the game never looked to be in the bag with the Stars’ threatening on attack and physical on defence.
The first quarter was played at a blistering pace, unsurprisingly with both teams flaunting the best attacking records in the competition and the Mystics posting a mammoth 61.8 goals per match so far this season.
It was clear how much was at stake for the two sides, entering the match with one win each including the extended extra-time thriller in round 8.
Under pressure from Stars goal-keeper Kelera Nawai-Caucau, Mystics goal-shooter Grace Nweke employed a unique defensive-style of attack to hold space under the hoop. Mystics feeders Peta Toeava and Tayla Earle opted for the fast and direct pass into Nweke, rather than the long-feeds fans have become accustomed to.
By the end of the first quarter the Mystics had built up a five-point lead, a stark contrast to their unsettled start last weekend against the Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse.
Stars goal-keeper Nawai-Caucau came out of the gates firing in the second quarter, racking up three intercepts as reward for her efforts to contain Nweke.
In response the Mystics’ tight defence forced the Stars to make some uncharacteristic errors and just when you thought the pace of the attack couldn’t get any faster the Mystics seemed to click into another gear.
At the half-time break the Mystics had maintained their five-point lead, despite a strong fight back from the Stars keen to swing the momentum their way.
The championship quarter was an intense physical contest as the Stars looked determined to create opportunities to chip away at the Mystics, with wing-defence Samon Nathan hunting for ball off Toeava.
Katie Te Ao replaced Tayla Earle at centre for a spell and was a menacing defensive presence for the Stars feeders.
On attack the Mystics showed great trust in each other, letting the ball flow fluidly and regaining the confidence to release the high ball into Nweke.
Stars feeding pair Mila Reuelu-Buchanan and Gina Crampton had their work cut out for them as they were constantly forced to reset, however their patience paid off with some brilliant ball into goal-shooter Maia Wilson.
Up by seven points going into the deciding quarter, the Mystics could taste victory and did not take their foot off the gas.
The feeds into Nweke were superb and the defensive pressure created by Sulu Fitzpatrick and Phoenix Karaka resulted into some precious turnovers that put the Mystics ahead by a safe margin heading into the dying minutes.
Stars goal-attack Amorangi Malesala’s accuracy from long-range was a stand-out, but not enough to keep her side in the fight, with the Mystics closing out the game 63 to 58.