13 Jun 2017

Mystics close in on play-off spot

6:22 am on 13 June 2017

The Northern Mystics have all but clinched a place in the ANZ netball Premiership play-offs with a 59-58 win over the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in Auckland.

Maria Tutaia and Casey Kopua.

Maria Tutaia and Casey Kopua. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The loss puts a big dent in the Magic's chances of making the top three.

The unbeaten Steel have 26 points, the Mystics 19, the Pulse 18 and the Magic 17.... the Steel and Pulse have two games left and the Mystics and Magic one.

The Mystics just need to beat the bottom of the table Tactix in their last game to qualify.

Although it was a united team effort that lifted the Mystics, the performances of veteran shooter Maria Tutaia and young defender Michaela Sokolich-Beatson shone throughout the game.

It was the kind of frantic nail-biting match you would expect when both teams are facing a must-win scenario. The game began with the Mystics sitting in third place on the ladder, and the Magic in fourth - and ended with the Mystics leap-frogging the Pulse into second overall.

The lead changed like short-phased traffic lights, with neither team showing the effects of playing two tough encounters on consecutive days.

The Magic, coming off a heavy loss to league leaders Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel, took an early advantage. Kelly Jury was cutting off the high lobs into Bailey Mes, and snatching rebounds from Tutaia's (rare) unsuccessful shots, and the Magic soon stole a four-goal march on the home side.

But they weren't allowed to build on it, as the Mystics defenders dug in to disrupt the Magic attack, and wing attack Elispeta Toeava throwing herself at everything to make sure her shooters were well-fed.

The Magic held on to led 16-15 at the first break, but couldn't stretch out until five minutes into the spell, through the quick reactions of Casey Kopua and Ariana Cable-Dixon. But the Mystics kept yo-yoing back, with Tutaia's trademark lethal long shots, and assumed the narrowest of leads.

But it was the turn of the Magic to surge again just before halftime, and the teams were locked at 29-29 as the headed for the changing rooms.

The Mystics shuffled their defence to start the third quarter, moving Anna Harrison out to wing defence to stalk Grace Rasmussen, who had been directing the Magic attack with her precise passing.

But the Magic carried on where they had left off, building on their team unity to create a six-goal gap. Of course, the Mystics swung the pendulum back again, as their new defence combo settled to their task. Three critical steals from Sokolich-Beatson, and suddenly the home side were in front again, 44-43, with 15 minutes remaining.

The stealthy Sokolich-Beatson continued to successfully prowl around the Magic shooters, supported by her goal keep Storm Purvis, who was glued to the Magic's Lenize Potgieter. The South African sharp shooter was still on song when she had the ball in her hands - scoring 39 from 42 - but she could have been even more prolific if not for the Mystics' dogged defence.

Neither team slowed down the feverish tempo in the final minutes, and the Magic closing to within one with 12 seconds to go. But the Mystics weren't prepared to relinquish the win they were craving.

Shooting Stats - Mystics:

Mes: 25/30 @ 83%

Tutaia: 34/42 @ 81%

Shooting Stats - Magic:

Potgieter: 39/42 @ 91%

Falkner: 19/24 @ 79%

MVP: Maria Tutaia (Mystics)