In her 138th and final national league match, long-standing shooter Bailey Mes bowed out in style when her team, Avis Magic, pipped the Ascot Park Hotel Steel 53-52 in a thrilling finale to both teams’ seasons in Invercargill on Sunday.
In a riveting contest and with neither team able to change their positions of fifth (Magic) and sixth (Steel) on the table, both sides still had plenty to play for.
Staring down the barrel of an unwanted record as the only team to remain winless for a season, the Steel were desperate to notch their first scalp in a challenging campaign. For the Magic, they were equally desperate to send Mes out on a high note after the long-serving shooter announced her retirement from all netball a few days earlier.
Getting away to a flyer, the Steel showed their intent and desire from the outset. Full-court defence produced a flurry of deflections and intercepts for the home side who burst out to an early lead.
Showing no signs of panic, the Magic slowly clawed their way back into the contest, levelling the scores up as the teams went toe-to-toe in a match that had all the ingredients of a grand final.
A number of turnovers each way added to proceedings before the Magic finally nudged their way to a 13-12 lead at the first break.
Scoring the first three goals on the resumption, the Steel got away to the best of starts in the second 15 minutes which featured several lead changes.
The constant defensive hustle of the Steel knocked the Magic off-stride on occasions but the calm heads of shooters Mes and Ameliaranne Ekenasio ensured the visitors remained well in the frame. With six intercepts, including three from busy wing defence Sam Winders, compared to the Magic’s one, the home side were winning plenty of extra scoring opportunities.
The tall figure of Amy Christophers was introduced at goal defence for the Magic late in the piece, the visitors halting a four-goal run by their opponents to close the gap. But it was the Steel who turned the tables by taking a similarly narrow advantage into half-time when they led 25-24.
In a bid to change the momentum, the Magic’s mobile shooting pair swapped bibs for the second half with Ekenasio going to goal shoot and Mes out to the wing. But the teams continued to track each other goal-for-goal with neither side able to wrestle the initiative.
Ekenasio was picture perfect under the hoop with 22 from 22 during the first three quarters while centre Georgie Edgecombe provided the speed on attack. With turnovers from both teams tidied up, the margins were narrow. Twice the Magic snuck out to two-goal advantages only to be reeled in by the never-say-die southerners.
With fortunes continuing to swing back and forth, the Magic reclaimed the lead to take a 41-39 lead into the last turn.
In a frantic final quarter Steel defenders Kate Burley and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit pulled out all the stops against the Silver Ferns shooting duo of Ekenasio and Mes while rising young shooter Saviour Tui rose to the occasion in a pressure-cooker atmosphere.
However, it was the experienced heads of their senior players who won the day for the Magic against an ever-improving Steel in a match that could have gone either way.