Hauling themselves off the bottom of the table, Splice Construction Magic ended their season in style after completing an end-to-end 54-43 win over Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel in Hamilton on Saturday.
Needing to post 45 goals and then win by more than three, the Magic responded in the best possible fashion, the 11-goal winning margin pushing them above the Trident Homes Tactix at season’s end.
In the rescheduled Round 7 match and final game of an extended regular season, both teams were intent on finishing their campaigns on a high note with pride the defining motivator.
In an injury and illness-affected season, the Magic showed what could have been with a determined final fling, enjoying the weight of possession which translated into handing them the edge throughout.
Extending her national league appearance record, evergreen defender Leana de Bruin lined up in her 229th match alongside centurion Erena Mikaere in the Magic’s starting seven.
The Steel welcomed Renee Savai’inaea back to the mix, the influential wing defence spending recent rounds side-lined by injury while Saviour Tui got the nod at goal attack.
The early impetus was with the Magic, the experienced midcourt duo of Claire Kersten and Sam Winders providing a solid wall of defence to stifle the Steel’s attacking momentum.
The Steel replied with their own defensive grind, Shannon Saunders and Kate Heffernan helping the visitors get back on level terms in an ever-building battle between two well-credentialled midcourts.
With Bailey Mes, showing fine form with her positional play and accuracy at the shooing end, and Mikaere proving a defensive menace at the other, the Magic finished with a flourish to take a 13-8 lead into the first break.
Showing plenty of energy and more hunger, the Magic continued to hold the upper-hand on the resumption. With the budding combination of Mes and Ameliaranne Ekenasio to the fore in the goal circle, the home side were efficient and effective on attack.
The Steel were not without their moments and could never be counted out but their efforts were often stalled by soft turnovers in a disjointed challenge.
The defensive work of Mikaere and de Bruin caused plenty of strife for the Steel shooters while Kersten and Winders provided the punch in the middle, both on attack and defensively, as the Magic built to a 26-20 lead at the main break.
Getting more ball into the hands of reliable shooter George Fisher’s hands proved fruitful in the opening stages of the third stanza as the Steel staged a brief comeback. That prompted a decisive response from the home side who put their foot down with a withering burst.
Mes featured in much of the Magic’s fine turn of form, gathering turnover ball on defence while converting a flurry of shots when turning and shooting from range. A run of five straight goals pushed the home side into a position of comfort, leaving the hapless southerners with few answers.
The experienced Kersten continued to be a strong presence in the midcourt with the ability to snaffle turnover opportunities while also being a key link, in tandem with Simmon Wilbore, to the shooters as the Magic rolled into three-quarter time with a comfortable 41-30 lead.