Closest of margins denies Magic a spot in Finals Series
For the first time in their history, WBOP Magic have missed out on the post-season despite toppling the Northern Stars 58-45 in the final match of the regular season in Tauranga on Wednesday.
Facing a mammoth challenge where they needed to restrict the Stars to 48 goals and win by 15, the Magic came agonisingly close, the margin left at 13 when the final whistle blew.
That meant a narrow escape for the SKYCITY Mystics who will now play Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse in Sunday’s Elimination Final.
Magic threw everything into the task at hand but with nothing on the line, the Stars more than played their part, veteran defenders Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin, the respective captains having a huge influence for their sides.
Wanting to finish their first season on a high, new entity the Stars did an admirable job of keeping the Magic honest in their chase for a spot in the Finals Series.
As has been throughout the season, Magic shooters Monica Falkner and Lenize Potgieter were deadly accurate but struggled for a consistent ball supply while the home team were hesitant with their transition through court.
Inspired by workhorse captain Kopua swooping on important turnover ball through rebounds and intercepts, Magic inched their way into the lead. Growing in confidence the flow returned and that was turned into a 16-11 lead at the first break.
With wing attack Grace Rasmussen in the thick of action, the home team moved up a gear on the resumption. Increased ball speed and movement backed up by a defensive lift put the Magic in the box seat. Quickly forging a 10-goal buffer, they looked well on the way to achieving their target.
However, the Stars finished the stanza strongly, de Bruin and Kayla Cullen denying the Magic shooters at every opportunity. At the other end, shooters Malia Vaka and Afa Rusivakula re-found their accuracy to chip away at the deficit.
With the Stars breathing down their neck, Magic still held a handy 31-24 lead at the main break.
With wing defence Fa’amu Ioane providing great hustle and slowing Magic’s second phase play, the home team could not shake a determined Stars team. However, in an ever-willing contest, Magic held their composure, benefitting from a couple of soft turnovers and errant shooting from the visitors to be let off the hook.
The move of Samantha Sinclair from wing defence to centre added renewed impetus to the Magic’s fortunes on attack, the home team finishing with a flourish to push their lead out to 45-33 and the realistic opportunity of reaching their seemingly impossible target.