The Adelaide Thunderbirds have won the trans-Tasman netball championship's minor premiership for the first time as a 10th successive victory pushed a depleted and unorthodox Northern Mystics closer to the wooden spoon with a 64-48 triumph today.
A dominant third quarter by the title favourites -- aided by yet another defensive setback for the luckless Mystics -- ended any hopes of a shock result, though there was still plenty of intrigue in what was ultimately a one-sided contest at Netball SA Stadium.
Bailey Mes, a wing attack with the Silver Ferns, proved a stunning success in the shooting circle while Cathrine Latu, the goal shoot she replaced in the starting line-up, made a surprising appearance in the GK bib in the final quarter as coach Ruth Aitken used a desperate measure to contain Jamaican star Carla Borrego.
It proved a thankless task for Latu who was predictably unable to disturb Borrego who gradually emerged as the dominant shooter with 45 from 50 attempts.
Like her teammates, MVP Borrego made a slow start but she was at the forefront as the Thunderbirds motored clear by winning the penultimate term 23-12 to overcome a five-goal halftime deficit.
The Mystics suffered a major setback when Julie Corletto was diagnosed with a season-ending foot injury in the lead-up to the penultimate round clash and in another ominous sign Aitken was forced to substitute her most experienced defender Kayla Cullen midway through the third quarter just as the Australians were taking control.
Cullen was able to return down the home stretch at goal defence after receiving treatment for a calf injury but by then the Thunderbirds were in cruise control to ease the home crowd anxieties after a sub-par opening half hour.
Initially off the pace as they returned from the bye, the Thunderbirds capitalised on Cullen's absence while Kate Shimmin's injection at goal keep for Sharni Layton after halftime also pressurised the excellent Mes and captain Maria Tutaia, who was content to play a supporting role to the 24-year-old.
Mes led the Mystics with 38 from 43 but managed only seven in the final quarter as the Thunderbirds finished with a flourish. Tutaia (10/16) missed her first two attempts and was basically confined to a feeding and acting as a decoy..
Layton and Rebecca Bulley took turns marking Mes with limited success until Shimmin's arrival and a collective improvement allowed the Thunderbirds to improve their record to 11 wins and one loss.
Held to just four goals at quarter time, Borrego's flawless 16 from 16 in the third term underlined her class and she was astray with just one more attempt.
Borrego was diplomatic when quizzed on her encounter with Latu, a player she normally admires from afar, after the Silver Fern replaced rookie defender Jessica Bourke.
"She definitely let me know she was there. She's an A-class player, she's going to give you a challenge, it was a good challenge," she said.
Meanwhile, Mes was pleased with the most authoritative shooting performance of her career.
"I'm happy with the first half (23 from 25 attempts), it's just a shame it fell away a little bit in the end there. We got a really solid lead, it's just a shame it fell away."
Mes, who spent the bulk of last season on the bench, was enjoying her combination with Tutaia -- a rare upside from a campaign that was yielded only one win.
"We've got a good connection, it's been awesome getting some court time," she told Fox Sports.
The Mystics wrap up a forgettable 2013 next Monday against the Magic in Tauranga -- Aitken's last match in charge before she takes up her next coaching assignment in Singapore.
Adelaide Thunderbirds 64 (Carla Borrego 45/50, Erin Bell 19/23) bt Northern Mystics 48 (Bailey Mes 38/43, Maria Tutaia 10/16)
Who should play goal shoot for the Silver Ferns?