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Northern Challenge win pushes Mystics to top of the table

Northern Challenge win pushes Mystics to top of the table

The MG Mystics replaced the Robinhood Stars at the top of the table after holding their nerve with a closely-fought 62-59 win against their cross-town rivals in Auckland on Sunday.

In the first of the Northern Challenge series between the pair this season, strong second half resolve hauled the Stars back into the contest after the Mystics threatened to cut loose through the middle stages.

Both teams lost their captains during the course of the match, with Stars leader Maia Wilson leaving the court with an ankle injury 10 minutes from time. A knee tweak caused the early demise of the Mystics’ Sulu Fitzpatrick before the first quarter had finished.

Stung by an extra-time loss in the previous round, the Mystics ensured there was no repeat when keeping their poise against a fast-finishing Stars. Superior shooting, with Grace Nweke leading the charge with a perfect 46 from 46, sealed the win for the Mystics while the Stars picked up an all-important bonus point for their efforts.

In settled line-ups, Monica Falkner got the nod at goal attack for the hosts while Jamie Hume got the same opportunity under the Stars hoop.

The Stars couldn’t have asked for a better start, with Elle Temu in the thick of action defensively after missing the last round through illness. She was a constant thorn in disrupting ball to Mystics strike shooter Nweke as the Stars built a handy early lead.

Recovering from their slow start, seven goals in a row while keeping the Stars scoreless for almost four minutes, ensured the Mystics were well and truly back in the constant.

It took Nweke a little time to warm into things but once her radar found its range, there was no stopping the shooter. She was well-supported by Falkner who was also on-song in her general play and finishing on the shot.

The only concern for the Mystics was the loss of Fitzpatrick, replaced by the tall figure of Carys Stythe, the Mystics hitting the first break with a 17-14 lead.

With the Mystics scoring the first five goals on the resumption, and pushing out to a 10-goal lead, the signs were ominous for the Stars.

Down on opportunities and scoring accuracy, the Stars introduced Amorangi Malesala at goal attack midway through in a bid to stop the rot which produced the desired result of halting the Mystics charge.

The Stars attacking end was constantly under pressure throughout the first half with the combined efforts of Phoenix Karaka, Stythe and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson picking up a swag of extra ball.

With the sure shooting of Nweke and Falkner paying off handsomely, it was the Mystics who stretched their advantage out to a 33-27  lead at the main break.

The Stars produced their best return during the third stanza. With the play-making Malesala adding spark to the attack line, the Stars were able to deny their opponents the same number of defensive opportunities.

That meant more ball in their hands as the Stars lifted their intensity  to close the gap and remain well in the contest. That included re-jigging their defence line with Samon Nathan taking over at wing defence, Holly Fowler moving to goal defence and Temu going back to goal keep.

The Mystics still held on to a 49-44 lead at the last break but well aware of a fast-chasing Stars breathing down their necks.