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Mystics defeat Stars to clinch minor premiership

Mystics defeat Stars to clinch minor premiership

In a high-stakes outing, the MG Mystics have secured the 2023 minor premiership and progressed straight through to the Grand Final after a hard-fought 63-58 win over the Robinhood Stars in Auckland on Sunday.

In the final round of the regular season and in a match holding huge ramifications in the make-up of the three teams for Finals Series riding on it, the Mystics grabbed their opportunity with both hands to seal top spot and a week off ahead of the Grand Final.

The magnitude of the match went down to the wire. Trailing by eight for much of the last quarter, the Stars produced a storming finish, their desperation being rewarded with the last five goals to earn a bonus point and keep their season alive.

A big first quarter (18-13) set the Mystics up for a tough win, the rest of the match producing a tight and riveting contesting with the second quarter being drawn, the Mystics winning the third by two goals and the Stars prevailing by two in the run home.

The Mystics looked headed for a comfortable win late in the piece when they suffocated any hints of a Stars comeback but the home side rose to the occasion, fighting gallantly to give themselves the best chance of nailing a spot in the Finals Series.  

In a bid to negate the height of 1.93m Mystics shooter Grace Nweke, the Stars opted for the imposing presence of Kelera Nawai-Caucau at goalkeeper in otherwise predictable line-ups.

After an even start, the Mystics gradually unleashed their firepower within, clinching vital turnovers under the Stars hoop while dynamic midcourt pivot Peta Toeava produced several moments of brilliance with her vision and astute movement to find her target of Nweke.

Putting the Stars in chase mode and doing little wrong in the opening 15 minutes propelled the Mystics into a handy 18-13 lead after a high-scoring first quarter.

Both teams started with a hiss and a roar on the resumption with strong flowing movement on attack but the Stars came a little unstuck against the relentless defensive work of Sulu Fitzpatrick and Phoenix Karaka. The pair expertly shut down the scoring opportunities for the Stars shooters, the pressure telling as the Mystics strode out to an eight-goal buffer.

Unable to contain the wizardry of Toeava, the signs were ominous for the Stars before a late surge hauled them right back into the contest.

Strong defensive work from Elle Temu and Nawai-Caucau, who gained much-needed turnover ball, and a change of attacking strategy from shooters Maia Wilson and Amorangi Malesala, helped the Stars finish with a flourish to draw the quarter.

That meant the differenced remained at five when the Mystics took a 33-28 lead into the main break.

The third stanza produced another tightly-contested 15 minutes with the Mystics having opportunities to pull away but the home side hung on gamely. With wing defence Samon Nathan grabbing intercept opportunities, a three-goal run from the Stars narrowed the margin to four.

However, the Mystics had the ability to drag themselves out of trouble, keeping the Stars at arms-length with Nweke remaining a strong presence under the hoop while defensively, there was no respite. Unable to grab the vital breakthrough, the Stars had a big job ahead of them when trailing 48-41 at the last turn.