Pushed hard, the Robinhood Stars retained their unbeaten start to the season after completing a hard-fought 55-51 win over Splice Construction Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in Tauranga on Sunday.
After being in control for three-quarters of the match, the Stars faced a testing final 15 minutes before making it three-from-three in the face of a resurgent Magic who threatened to spoil the visitors' perfect record.
As the tension levels rose, composure also boiled over with numerous cautions and warnings being dished out as both sides put everything into claiming the points. Let down by a slow start, the Magic came home with plenty of sting in the final quarter.
A big defensive start gave the home side more ball and more opportunities as they exploded into life, teenaged shooter Khiarna Williams’ athleticism and accuracy helping Magic score seven unanswered goals.
But it proved a bridge too far, getting to within two was as close as it got, the Magic picking up a valuable bonus point on the back of their valiant fightback.
Tori Kolose was given a first start in her brief career when slotting in at wing attack for the Magic while Georgia Tong was handed the start at goal defence. There was a familiar look to the Stars, who presented with their familiar starting seven of recent weeks.
The pair level-pegged during the opening exchanges with both teams making a tidy start before the Stars hit their straps. Growing in confidence with each outing, goal attack Jamie Hume continued to impress with her playmaking skills and deceptive turn of speed while injecting herself into the circle at just the right time.
Captain and key shooter Maia Wilson delivered her usual poise and accuracy, working sweetly in tandem with feeder Gina Crampton while ageless defender Anna Harrison was a disruptive presence under the Magic hoop.
Enjoying much more ball in their hands, the Stars impressed with their speedy transitional play while building a handy buffer to take an 18-13 lead into the first break.
The response from Magic was swift with multiple changes made on the resumption. Captain Sam Winders moved to wing attack, Georgie Edgecombe slipped into centre and Tong to wing defence while Erena Mikaere and Chiara Semple came off the bench and into goal defence and goal attack respectively.
Always a threatening presence, the Stars couldn’t completely shake the attention provided by the Magic, the home side hanging on grimly. The subtlety of Semple’s play made a difference and gave the Magic more purpose at the attacking end but it was the Stars who remained in control.
The pace of the Stars attacking line had the Magic back-pedalling at times while visiting defender Elle Temu was a busy and disruptive figure under the hoop as her side pushed out to a 33-25 lead at the main break.
More defensive hustle from the Magic presented numerous opportunities for the home side to start a niggly third quarter but they weren’t always able to make the most of them, moments of quality play being undone by too many turnovers.
Import shooter Caitlin Bassett was replaced halfway through by Williams who made a productive return. The teenager impressed with her aerial skills and accuracy to convert all ball that came her way.
An improved showing through a drawn third quarter, with the Stars holding a 46-38 lead, gave the Magic plenty of hope heading into the run home where they forced the Stars to dig deep.