Holding on to slim hopes of clinching a home Grand Final, the Robinhood Stars needed all their poise to stamp out a late-charging Splice Construction Magic before pocketing a 58-54 win in Auckland on Wednesday.
The Stars, who were cruising towards the much-needed high-scoring outcome required as part of the improbably equation of progressing to Grand Final hosting rights, a 13-goal lead through a rampant first half was trimmed substantially by game’s end.
In a classic game of two halves, the Magic would rue their inconsistencies of the first half before storming back with a form reversal to win the second half in the rescheduled Round 5 match. Running hot, the final whistle came too soon for the Magic but not soon enough for a relieved Stars.
Celebrating Heritage Round, which had been scheduled for Round 5, the Stars paid tribute to South Auckland’s first national league team, the Cometz, by wearing a replica of their famous dress.
The home side were without Elle Temu for this outing, the in-form goal defence nursing an ankle injury, but the Stars still presenting with a more than accomplished defence line of Holly Fowler, Kayla Johnson and Anna Harrison.
It has been a rarity this season, but the Magic had their 10 fully-fit contracted squad on deck for this one, the proven midcourt combination of Claire Kersten and Samantha Winders pairing up once again while goalkeeper Erena Mikaere celebrated her 100th national league outing.
The home side got off to a rollicking start, with both ends for the Stars – shooter Maia Wilson and Harrison – being prominent figures in helping produce the goods to push the Stars into an early lead. The Magic replied in positive fashion with shooters Bailey Mes and Ameliaranne Ekenasio moving the circle well but the visitors were handicapped by too many loose turnovers.
Growing in stature, the Stars built a handy advantage before the Magic stopped the rot to leave the home side well-positioned when leading 17-12 at the first break.
Replacing injured shooter Jamie Hume in the opening quarter, Amorangi Malesala slotted in seamlessly as the Stars dominance continued on the resumption. The home side enjoyed an increasingly bigger share of the ball through turnover opportunities which they made full use off.
The Magic’s attacking third was under constant pressure where the presence of Harrison was always a threat, her ability to jump and disrupt the shot keeping the Magic shooters on constant notice.
Gina Crampton and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan provided a swift and accurate service to the Stars shooting duo as the floodgates looked to open. However, Magic hung on gamely, Mes reverting to considerable success from range but the team overall, still suffering from failing to nail their turnover opportunities.
A late quarter surge pushed the Stars out to a 33-24 lead at the main break.
Delivering their best quarter of the match, the Magic denied the Stars the free-scoring opportunities they had enjoyed earlier in the match.
Showing plenty of patience, grit and determination, the visitors held on to the ball for longer spells with Mes and Ekenasio reliable under the hoop and stalling the Stars hold on the game.
Making a real fist of competing on level terms, a spirited Magic had the satisfaction of winning the third stanza by a goal with Kersten and Winders rising to the occasion but still had an uphill battle on their hands when trailing the Stars 48-40 at the last turn.