Waikato-BOP Magic's playoff road gets tougher
Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald concedes her team will have to do it the hard way.
After losing yesterday 55-43 to the NSW Swifts in Sydney, the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side are poised to miss out on the trans-Tasman league's 1 vs 2 major semifinal which offers a second life in the playoffs.
Instead, they are set to play in the sudden death 3 v 4 encounter, bracing for two successive games against the Queensland Firebirds.
That itself is a scary prospect, after the Firebirds ripped apart the Central Pulse 60-33 on the Gold Coast on Saturday, with the Pulse having twice beaten the Magic this season.
With one round to play, the Swifts are equal on 18 points with the Melbourne Vixens, though the latter are on track to claim the top spot with a far superior goal percentage.
The Magic and Firebirds are both on 16 (the Firebirds ahead on percentage) and meet in Hamilton in the last round next Monday.
The Vixens are away to the Southern Steel on Saturday, while the Swifts travel to face the Northern Mystics on Sunday.
''I think Swifts and Vixens are in a very good position now, and I think they're two quality sides and they're not going to let something slip at the last hurdle,'' Fitzgerald said of the prospect of the tougher road in the playoffs.
''At this stage I just want to concentrate on being able to play good netball, but I think that's probably how it will pan out, yes.''
Mathematically the Pulse can make the four, but they can be discounted because they would have to see the Magic lose by about 35, then beat the West Coast Fever in Perth by about the same margin later that night.
While the Magic v Firebirds shapes as a dead rubber, the winner will claim home advantage for the playoff.
Despite her team's sloppy attack yesterday, Fitzgerald is still optimistic about their title chances and believes they did enough against the Swifts that they could be confident in coming up against them again in the playoffs.
''I think there's more than enough evidence tonight that we can run with these teams. We just have to eliminate those critical moments where we allow three or four goals to be scored against us because we do silly things.''
Led by captain Casey Kopua's super defensive display, which featured seven rebounds, two intercepts and two deflections, the Magic had several chances to peg the deficit back, but a stray pass or a poor option let them down.
''We have to be a lot more careful what we do with the ball,'' Fitzgerald said.
''We just threw far too much away tonight.
''I'm frustrated because I think we had so many opportunities and we shouldn't have allowed the game to blow out to the scoreline that it did.''
That lack of cohesion has been a worry for the Magic over the past month and they have addressed it at training and tried new combinations.
For the second week running Fitzgerald switched goal shoot Jo Harten (22/28) with goal attack Ellen Halpenny (12/14) at halftime.
But midway through the third quarter she felt things were too stagnant and more opportunities had to be created, so Halpenny was benched, with Malia Paseka (9/13) injected.
It was too difficult a situation for the inexperienced 20-year-old to make an impact though.
''I thought it was a good opportunity to give her a run,'' Fitzgerald said.
''I think [she was] very nervous to go out there but she worked herself into the game and she's an easy target for us.''
Up the other end of the court Caitlin Thwaites (25/31) and Susan Pratley (30/38) were not overly convincing, but the slick midcourt efforts of Sarah Wall, Kimberlee Green and Abbey McCulloch gave them plenty of opportunities.
The Magic will have Jamie-Lee Price's right ankle to monitor this week after she was forced off the court halfway through the third quarter.
''We thought maybe she was going to be able to run it out, but it became apparent that she wouldn't be able to,'' Fitzgerald said.
''But I think it is one of those ones, that with good treatment through the week, she should be all right.''