Jo Harten rated it as the most pressure she'd ever felt on a shot, after landing the crunch goal in the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic's stunning minor semifinal win over the NSW Swifts in Sydney yesterday.
With time up on the clock in the sudden death contest, the Englishwoman sunk a penalty attempt to clinch a dramatic 50-49 victory at Allphones Arena, as she broke the hearts of the hosts and sent her side into raptures.
The Swifts tied the game with 13 seconds left and while Harten missed with one second to go, she gathered the rebound and heard the sweet sound of the whistle for a contact call.
It was the 25-year-old's first finals appearance, and while at the time she was thinking of it being "any other shot", her game-winner obviously had consequences.
"We're the ones that have the responsibility to put the goal in the net," she said, adding that even among her 52 test caps she hadn't had a shot of that magnitude.
"Probably not, actually. I played extra time last year with the Tactix and sunk the winning goal there but probably not as much pressure as that, so it's a great feeling to put in the bag for experience."
Harten's stats of 28 from 35 don't do her justice, with a few long-range speculators thrown in there, while shooting partner Ellen Halpenny (22/26) was equally instrumental late, twice giving her team the lead in the closing stages.
"Me and Jo love to share things so we share the final goal," Halpenny said.
"I love Jo. I was thinking she's got to stay one more week because I don't want her to go home. She's just amazing, I can't speak highly enough of her."
Down the other end of the court, captain Casey Kopua was just yelling, "come on Joey".
"That feeling, that's certainly what sport does to you, you can either be a hero or you can go to zero," the skipper said. "I think in the third quarter I actually felt like I was going to vomit because I was that nervous."
It was real gutsy stuff from the visitors, who were behind for almost the entire contest.
The Swifts led 22-15 in the second quarter and looked like powering away but the Magic kept in the game.
"I knew they would keep fighting and keep fighting, and they just needed a couple of things to turn their way," said coach Julie Fitzgerald, who admitted she was still shaking an hour afterwards.
"It is tense stuff, so it's very difficult not to be emotional when you see them put out a performance like that."
Kopua said that in the late timeout called by Leana de Bruin, Fitzgerald's message to the team was "fight" and "composure", while the captain's call was "We can't wait for anybody else to make it happen, we have to make it happen ourselves".
Halpenny credited her defenders for giving the team direction and confidence on the court.
"Casey and Leana, no doubt, they're so experienced. And they just lift us, they say the right words at the right time, and it's so easy to thrive off them," she said.
Fitzgerald was delighted with the way her players kept their heads, admitting it was something they had let themselves down with previously.
The Magic went into the match as heavy underdogs after losing four of their past five games and having gone down to the Swifts by 12 just a fortnight ago.
The vastly new-look team turned heads and dropped jaws with their form at the beginning of the season, and now they're just one game away from a grand final appearance.
They fly home this morning before heading back across the Tasman for an expected Sunday afternoon preliminary final. That will be confirmed tonight after the major semifinal between the Melbourne Vixens and Queensland Firebirds. The winner hosts the decider, with the Magic taking on the loser.
Fitzgerald said there was a lot they already knew about both those sides, and reckons tonight's game is too close to call and doesn't have a preference of where they go next.
"When you come in where we have, we've got to beat both teams if we want to win it, so we don't really mind," she said.
- Waikato Times
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