Efficient Mystics move eight points clear on top

A DOMINANT Northern Mystics outfit moved one step closer to earning an automatic ANZ Premiership Grand Final spot, defeating their northern rivals Northern Stars by three goals at Pulman Arena yesterday. The Mystics were on top for the majority of the contest, particularly at the breaks, but they never had it completely their own way, and the Stars fought right to the end. Though the home team did win the final term, it was a case of too little, too late with the Mystics securing the 54-51 victory.

NORTHERN STARS 14 | 11 | 14 | 12 (51)
NORTHERN MYSTICS 16 | 12 | 16 | 10 (54)

The result was a marked improvement on the 24-goal loss the Stars were handed a fortnight ago, with the home side trailing by just two, three and five goals at the respective breaks. They even gave themselves the best chance of coming from behind to post a win in the last quarter, but the reliability of Grace Nweke proved too much. Still, the Stars got within the two-goal margin after trailing by as much as eight goals at one stage, 41-49.

Northern Mystics looked to have the game on their terms from early on, piling on six of the first eight goals to open up an early lead courtesy of the impressive Nweke (14 goals from 17 attempts in the first term). Maia Wilson (12 goals from 13 attempts) worked to get her side back in the contest to draw within on, as Jamie Hume (two from three and only one goal assist) was being blanketed by Phoenix Karaka. Wing attack duos Gina Crampton (Stars) and Elisapeta Toeava (Mystics) were both on first with nine and eight goal assists respectively.

The second term was largely identical to the first, as the as the Mystics stormed the early part to pile on six consecutive goals to race out to a seven-goal lead three and a half-minutes in. Hume was not having an accurate day as her season shooting woes continued, whilst Wilson was also missing some golden opportunities. Nweke on the other hand was largely on-son, pairing well with Monica Falkner, though the goal attack went one from three in the term. Even though the Mystics opened up another big lead the Stars dragged them back. If the home side had been more accurate – Wilson scored six goals from 10 attempts, Hume five from eight – then they might well have been in front at the main break. Instead, the Mystics lead by three.

Northern Mystics brought Filda Vui on for Falkner to start the second half, with Michaela Sokolich-Beatson replaced Fa’amu Ioane in wing defence. Midway through the quarter, Holly Fowler came on for Kayla Johnson at wing defence, whilst Wilson came to the bench after scoring just two from five to start the third quarter. It allowed Nweke and the Mystics to keep the lead at as much as seven goals again, before Amorangi Malesala came on and nailed her first attempt. Both Malesala and Hume seemed to work well together only missing one of their last nine shots to cut the final break deficit to five.

Falkner returned for the fourth quarter with Karaka coming back on for Carys Stythe, as the Stars backed in their current seven. Though Malesala had a moment where she dragged her side back into the contest – and with Hume’s help made it just two goals the difference, the midcourt work of Tayla Earle and Toeava ultimately set up Nweke for a big day out. By the final buzzer, the Mystics were up by that three-goal margin, having saluted 54-51 to move eight points clear on top of the ANZ Premiership ladder with an 8-2 record, three more wins than the Stars and Central Pulse in the other two finals spots.

Of all the impressive players in the match, it was the work of goal keeper Sulu Fitzpatrick who earned Most Valuable Player (MVP) honours, having forced Wilson (20 goals from 28 attempts) to the bench. Fitzpatrick massed one intercept and pulled down five rebounds, whilst only committing five penalties, and no turnovers. Elisapeta Toeava was efficient with 25 goal assists from 40 feeds, the clear standout in teh midcourt, with Earle and Falkner both managing the eight.

For the Stars, Crampton picked up 29 goal assists from a massive 57 feeds, with Mila Reuelu-Buchanan managing 51 feeds, but the goalers only converted 12 of them. Veteran goal keeper Anna Harrison picked up her side’s only two rebounds of the match to work hard all game on Nweke (49 goals from 55 attempts).

The Northern Stars take on Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic next Saturday, May 14, with the Northern Mystics also locking horns with Mainland Tactix on the same day.

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