The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic's stellar trans-Tasman league season has come to an end with a loss to the Queensland Firebirds in the preliminary final in Brisbane tonight.
After playing well above expectations this year, the new-look Magic side again fought hard but were beaten 54-50 in front of a capacity crowd of 3179 at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre.
The Firebirds, who also knocked the Magic out last year, will take on the Melbourne Vixens in the grand final on Sunday.
The Magic got out to an early two-goal buffer, but the Firebirds quickly got themselves in front in a tight first quarter, before their goal defence Clare McMeniman called an early timeout for treatment to a bleeding nose after copping a stray arm from her captain Laura Geitz.
The hosts put in plenty of their renowned high balls for goal shoot Romelda Aiken and while she missed several early shots under the hoop, the 1.96m Jamaican managed to nab the rebounds.
At the other end of the court Magic shooters Jo Harten and Ellen Halpenny weren't all that accurate either, and their team faced a 14-13 quartertime deficit.
The home side got their first two-goal lead early in the second stanza, which was highlighted by an incredible Geitz intercept, where she threw the ball back in court with it deflecting off the back of a team-mate and back into the skipper's hands.
Harten was on song from range in the second quarter but it was a miss from her which opened the way for the Firebirds to go up by three - the biggest lead of the game.
A minute before halftime they went four ahead thanks to a superb finish from an off-balance Aiken.
When Courtney Tairi was pinged for held ball from the last centre pass her side went to the break behind 29-26, with the Firebirds having the start to the third quarter.
They reclaimed a four-goal lead but after Aiken missed to make it five and Magic captain Casey Kopua produced a couple of fine pieces of work, the visitors came back into it at 31-30.
But soon enough the Firebirds were up by four again, and Kopua called a tactical timeout where coach Julie Fitzgerald sent a firm, direct message to Halpenny to get her feet moving.
However, immediately after the break the hosts went up by five, then six, and after the Magic threw a ball astray it became seven consecutive goals and blew out to 38-30.
Fitzgerald brought Jamie-Lee Price on for Sam Sinclair at wing defence with six minutes to go in the third quarter, but she made a crucial error when she was pinged for heaving the ball from the defensive third to the attacking one.
On the Magic's next possession Tairi threw the ball out, but the visitors kept fighting and scored the last three goals of the quarter to trail 40-37 at three-quartertime and set up a tense final stanza.
With the opening possession the Magic reduced the margin to two, before Halpenny (21/24) threw a wild ball and allowed the Firebirds to go up by five.
With Aiken (36/44) called for stepping, Harten (29/38) sunk to make the margin three but was then pulled up for an elbow into Geitz just when the Magic were building momentum.
At 49-44 with six and a half minutes to go Leana de Bruin called time and Fitzgerald willed her troops on, but Harten then missed and the Firebirds hit the half century.
The Magic had a slim chance in the final couple of minutes but Halpenny was called for yet another offensive contact, then missed with 30 seconds left to reduce the margin to two.
- Waikato Times
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