Stars shine in one-goal thriller against Mystics
The Northern Stars returned to the winner’s circle in dramatic fashion after posting a thrilling 53-52 win over near neighbours the Northern Mystics in Auckland today.
The result broke a four-game losing streak for the Stars while also cementing their grip on third spot on the points table. It also sealed a 3-0 clean sweep in the Northern Challenge Trophy, the local derby contested between the pair during the season.
Urged on by a sell-out home crowd in a tight, exciting and even match, shooters Maia Wilson and Ellen Halpenny were key performers in the run home where the lead changed hands five times.
The ever-improving Mystics added plenty to the contest, having the better of the first half but just unable to hold out a resurgent Stars in a pulsating final quarter in what was a pivotal game for both teams.
The Stars were back to a full-strength line-up with midcourter Temepara Bailey and shooter Halpenny both returning to the starting seven.
For the fourth week, captain Phoenix Karaka was forced out of the Mystics line-up after continuing to suffer from concussion, the in-form Michaela Sokolich-Beatson slotting in at goal defence and youngster Tayla Earle at centre.
Scoring the first three goals, the Mystics got away to a cracking start with shooter Bailey Mes playing a leading role.
Long-limbed goalkeeper Erena Mikaere and Sokolich-Beatson provided plenty of turnover ball for the Mystics but lack of accuracy under the hoop helped the Stars get back on level terms.
After taking time to settle, Wilson found her range for the home side as the Mystics edged to a narrow 11-10 lead at the first break.
As has become their tactic in recent weeks, the Mystics introduced teenaged shooting sensation Grace Nweke at the start of the second quarter. It was a goal-for-goal stand-off to start the stanza before the Mystics took the initiative.
Mikaere continued to be an off-putting presence under the Stars hoop while at the other end of the court, Nweke showcased her aerial ability and accuracy. Mes continued to play a strong hand with her execution and calm demeanour in the attack line as the Mystics took a 26-23 buffer into the main break.
Swapping their in-circle defenders with captain Leana de Bruin charged with taking care of Nweke, the Stars rediscovered their flow on attack as the home side delivered a strong third stanza.
The lead changed hands several times in an absorbing 15 minutes as both teams fought valiantly to gain the initiative. However, the quarter belonged to the Stars. Wilson and clever play from Halpenny produced a strong showing under the hoop on the back of more fluency from the attack line.
Attacking the ball defensively also paid dividends for the Stars with a number of turnover opportunities helping the home side turn the game on its head when reclaiming the lead and a slim 40-38 advantage at the last turn.