Mystics gain the edge in opening Northern Challenge clash
In battling to a 60-54 win over their near neighbours, the SKYCITY Mystics pocketed their first win of the season in dramatic fashion against the Northern Stars.
The win also ensured the Mystics drew first blood in the Barfoot and Thompson Northern Challenge which will be decided between the two teams over the course of the three matches they play against each other this season.
The sending off of midcourter Fa’amu Ioane midway through the final quarter for repeated infringing after she had already been stood down for two minutes just ahead of three-quarter time meant the Stars were forced to finish the match a player down.
Up until then, it had been an entertaining contest, the Mystics enjoying a greater share of the possession to maintain the slightest of edges. But the Stars showed plenty of grit, time and again surging back into the contest, shooter Maia Wilson playing a leading hand with 36 goals from 39 attempts.
With Silver Fern Maria Folau starting on the bench, it was Bailey Mes and Jamie Hume who got the nod to start in the much-talked about Mystics shooting circle.
However, it was the Stars who got away to a flyer, scoring the first three goals before the Mystics made a strong reply with the next five. Dynamic midcourter Elisapeta Toeava, the shortest player in the competition, and rangy defender Anna Harrison, made their presence felt early as the Mystics built a handy buffer.
Wilson hauled the Stars back into contention with a faultless opening 15 minutes to leave the Mystics holding a narrow 12-10 lead at the first break.
Both teams made changes in their shooting ends on the resumption, Folua making her entrance for Hume while Ellen Halpenny took over from Paula Griffin in the Stars circle.
Both circles showed the benefits, the Stars levelling within 90 seconds in a tight second stanza, and the Mystics, on occasion, threatening to blow the game open but kept in check by the ever-challenging visitors.
Toeava and Samon Nathan delivered a slick service to Folau and Mes, helping the Mystics push out to a 30-26 lead at the main break on the back of a superior possession rate.
The Mystics international defence line of Harrison, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson and Phoenix Karaka continued to apply the pressure in limiting the Stars attacking options, again pulling out to a handy lead.
But the Stars refused to buckle, the clever play and accurate finishing of shooters Halpenny and Wilson keeping their side well in touch. A late scoring rush of four straight goals helped the Stars tie the game up but some of the good work was undone when Fa’amu Ioane was sent off for two minutes after being warned for repeated infringing.
The Mystic nosed in front to take a tenuous 42-40 lead at the last break and with it the promise of an exciting run to the line.