Stars overpower Mystics to clinch Northern Challenge
The Northern Stars have got their hands on the Northern Challenge Trophy for the first time after despatching cross-town rivals the Northern Mystics 64-50 in Auckland today.
In the second of the Super Sunday matches, the well-performed Stars backed up their win over the Mystics in Round 3 to clinch the best-of-three series between the pair while securing their fifth win of the season.
It also solidified third place on the table for the south Auckland-based team, who set the platform for today’s win on the back of a sizzling start while continuing to build on their performance through the match. It also consigned the Mystics to a sixth straight loss.
After making her debut against the same team in Round 3, impressive 1.93m schoolgirl shooting prospect Grace Nweke was awarded her first start for the Mystics. For the well-credentialled Stars, wing defence Holly Fowler made her first start of the season.
The contrast between the pair couldn’t have been any more obvious during the opening stanza as the Stars got away to an absolute flyer while the Mystics dug themselves into a deep hole.
Starts have been a curse for the Mystics all season with today being no different as their cross-town visitors bolted out to an 8-0 lead after the first five minutes. The Stars were seamless through court with their transition and fine finishing of Maia Wilson and Ellen Halpenny.
The home side fought back gamely in the latter stages but there was still a mountain to climb when the Stars went to the first break with a healthy 19-10 lead.
With the Mystics re-jigging their defence line personnel while also finding a smoother path into Nweke, where youngster Tayla Earle was a prominent contributor, the home side were a much more competitive unit on the resumption. With Bailey Mes finding her range and Nweke sound on any rebound opportunities, the Mystics staged a spirited to fightback to draw within five.
However, with Stars defenders Leana de Bruin and Storm Purvis continuing to apply the pressure under the hoop, the Mystics could not maintain their momentum.
With the second quarter ending in a draw, the Stars held their nine-goal advantage when leading 35-26 at half-time.
Import Charlee Hodges took over from Halpenny in the Stars line-up for the second half as another tight quarter was played out.
The Stars patience and ability to play a short game when required was the major point of difference. Holding onto the ball until an opening presented on the back of a fine delivery of service from midcourters Temepara Bailey and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan helped the visitors keep their noses in front.
The relentless smothering defensive hustle of de Bruin and Purvis meant the Mystics shooters were never able to properly settle while providing a valuable source of turnover opportunities as the visitors took a decisive 49-38 lead into the last break.
Both teams made a mass of changes during the final stanza but, again, it was the Stars who made the best use of their opportunities.