In a match which typified their season, the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and made it to the trans-Tasman netball league grand final after winning a scintillating preliminary final.
The Magic beat the Northern Mystics 57-48 in extra time at The Trusts Stadium in Auckland, to book their spot in the grand final across the Tasman against the Melbourne Vixens on Sunday afternoon.
After losing their first four games of the season, the Magic have now won 11 in a row to make it to their third grand final, and now have the chance to win their first title.
Down by five goals in the fourth quarter, the Magic stormed back and took the match to extra time, where they were completely dominant, as the home side fell to pieces.
The Magic won the two seven-minute periods of extra time 13-4 after having the upper hand during plenty of the match, but showing enormous character to fight back from a position of extreme difficulty, giving Vixens coach Julie Hoornweg and assistant Eloise Southby-Halbish, who were interested spectators in the crowd, plenty to mull over.
Despite Cathrine Latu (23/23) and Maria Tutaia (25/35) doing well for the hosts, Irene van Dyk (35/40) held steady when Julianna Naoupu (22/34) struggled.
Mystics' captain Temepara George leaves netball on a losing note but it was a wonderful performance by her side for a while, before the Magic stormed home.
It was an intense opening to the match and both teams looked to be feeling the nerves, with several balls not finding their intended targets.
When settled in, no side gained much of an upper hand, and the Mystics netted all 12 of their shots, while the Magic were guilty of missing three.
Naoupu missed a shot right on the whistle which kept the scores tied at 12-12 heading into the second quarter.
The visitors got a break on the Mystics in the opening stages of the second period, as they capitalised on a couple of turnovers and jumped out to an 18-14 advantage, at which point the hosts called a timeout.
After the break the Mystics clawed their way back, scoring three goals on the trot.
They then pulled out the famed Harrison Hoist, though to no effect.
A very long shot from Tutaia tied the scores at 20-20, before the Mystics took the lead, but a late miss from Tutaia saw Leana de Bruin gather in the ball and help the Magic to a 24-23 buffer at halftime.
The visitors extended their advantage to three goals early in the third quarter, then both sides became sloppy with some of their options, in the face of some inspired defence.
When the home side got back to level terms at 30-30 the Magic called a timeout, and they then played their patient, waiting game with the ball in hand, before Magic captain Laura Langman was called for held ball.
Latu converted to give the Mystics the lead, then they went into the final quarter ahead 36-34, having won the third stanza 13-10.
The Mystics slotted three on the trot to open the fourth quarter and looked in control, with Anna Harrison causing all sorts of trouble for the Magic shooters.
But the Magic didn't say die and edged their way back into the contest.
Up 43-42 the hosts called a timeout, then the Magic levelled things up.
A great take from Latu put the Mystics up 44-43 then a Naoupu miss with less than a minute to go looked to have sealed the fate, but a de Bruin intercept in the final 30 seconds sent the visitors up court, where Naoupu missed again but van Dyk nailed the second attempt, sending the game into extra time.
The Magic's momentum continued into the first period of seven minutes of extra time, as they powered on five unanswered goals, capitalising on some shaky play from the home side, taking a 51-46 lead to the quick turnaround, before going on to finish the job.
- Fairfax Media