Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse withstood a mighty second half fightback from Avis Magic before snatching a dramatic 50-49 win and a seventh straight win in Hamilton on Sunday.
With Claire Kersten reverting to wing defence and the tall figure of Georgie Edgecombe filling the centre role, combined with the ball-winning ability of defensive duo of Georgia Takarangi and Erena Mikaere, the Magic produced a big second half in reply to the Pulse’s early dominance.
Desperate to collect maximum points to keep their hopes alive in the race to the Finals Series, the Magic fell agonisingly short after hitting the lead for the first time in the opening minutes of the final quarter.
From there, it was goal-for-goal, a Pulse intercept with two minutes to go helping the defending champions nose back in front and close out a tight contest. In what was the third clash between the pair this season, and for the third time, just one goal separated the teams at the end of three 60-minute games, with the Pulse winning the first and third.
``There’s a sense of calmness when we’re playing,’’ Pulse co-captain Tiana Metuarau said of the tight contest.
``We know how to win despite how close games get and the good thing is, we’re still taking the three points.
``We’ve improved so much and we’ve shown a lot of progression and at the right time of the season. So, I think we’re managing things really well and we’re looking after the baby.
``There’s a lot of trust in this team which is an under-appreciated thing and that’s kind of our super power.’’
The Magic opted to start experienced campaigner Kersten at centre with Charlotte Elley filling the wing defence spot. The Pulse lined up with their customary starting seven of recent weeks.
In the face of staunch Pulse midcourt defence, the Magic opened with a clutch of early turnovers, allowing the visitors to race out to a 7-3 lead.
Midcourters Maddy Gordon and Fa’amu Ioane produced an effective defensive wall while Gordon and Whitney Souness provided the pace and accuracy on attack. Rising young shooter Amelia Walmsley delivered the accuracy under the hoop on the back of well-timed feeds in the face of strong pressure from Takarangi and Mikaere.
Magic had some improved moments as the quarter progressed but paid the price for too many soft turnovers and as a result a lack of scoring opportunities.
With more attempts under their belt, it was the Pulse who took a 12-8 lead into the first break.
The Pulse scored the first two goals on the resumption but as the intensity levels lifted, the Magic showed their grit with a strong fightback.
Athletic and non-stop defender Takarangi provided plenty of opportunities for the home side, climbing high on several occasions to get her hands on turnover ball while shooters Bailey Mes and Ameliaranne Ekenasio found their groove under the hoop.
The Pulse repelled the spirited Magic in strong fashion with defenders Kristiana Manu’a and Kelly Jury excelling in their ability to stifle their opponents. Building on their imposing and consistent defensive pressure, the Pulse were equally-efficient on attack to take a 25-19 lead into halftime.
A midcourt change with Kersten reverting to wing defence and Edgecombe off the bench into centre along with the continued ability of Takarangi to successfully challenge for ball paid dividends for the Magic, who made a big move in the third quarter.
Making the most of their turnover opportunities and with Mes and Ekenasio finding their range from distance combined with strong movement, the home side chipped away at the deficit.
Both shooting ends produced great accuracy under the hoop, leaving no room for slips as the Magic reduced the deficit to just two when the Pulse led 38-36 at the last turn.
Bailey Mes 25/30 (83%)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 24/25 (96%)
Amelia Walmsley 37/39 (95%)
Tiana Metuarau 13/15 (87%)
MVP: Kelly Jury