The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic have all but secured their place in the trans-Tasman league playoffs with a round to play after beating the Melbourne Vixens in Hamilton tonight.
In what was a re-match of last year's grand final, the Magic came up with the same outcome, as they again got the better of the Vixens, winning 56-51 in the penultimate round of the regular season at Claudelands Arena.
The win is the Magic's fourth in succession and keeps them in fourth on the ladder, but they are now equal with the Vixens on 16 points.
While the Magic can still mathematically miss the playoffs, even a loss in their final regular season match against the bottom placed Northern Mystics in Mt Maunganui next Monday night could see them through.
They will be out for the kill in that game though, wanting to up their goal percentage to try and claim third spot and therefore home advantage for the 3 v 4 minor semifinal.
The Adelaide Thunderbirds have been confirmed in top spot to host the 1 v 2 major semifinal after a 64-48 home win over the Mystics.
The Queensland Firebirds' 52-48 victory over the Swifts in Brisbane has them on 18 points and they are away to the Thunderbirds in the last round, while the Vixens are at home to the West Coast Fever.
The Magic were quality tonight and showed composure from early on.
Irene van Dyk played a strong holding role in the face of quality defenders Bianca Chatfield and Geva Mentor and nailed 31/33.
Coach Noeline Taurua was quick to sing her praises, saying she was more stable and clearer on what her lines and angles were.
"I'm really pleased with Irene, I just thought she had wicked game, I thought she was very solid, some of the ball she took was sublime."
Goal attack Ellen Halpenny (25/29) was quality support with and her all-round court play was of an increased standard.
The Vixens were quality on attack too, with Tegan Caldwell (28/29) and Karyn Howarth (23/27) doing enough to keep veteran Sharelle McMahon on the bench.
But it was the Magic's defensive end of Casey Kopua, Leana de Bruin and wing defence Jodi Tod-Elliott which picked up enough ball for their team to use.
"They worked really hard," Taurua said. "I thought their shooters played very well, their shooting statistics were quite high, so you're after really grovelling ball. And with their outsides as well, with Maddy Brown and the attack end they actually got onto circle edge quite good too so I think as a defensive unit they did a really good job."
After a shaky start from both teams, the Vixens held sway through the first quarter, but van Dyk gave her side the lead for the first time and they went to the break 13-12 ahead.
The Magic got out to a five-goal buffer and despite some increased pressure halting their momentum into the shooting circle, managed to maintain the lead through the quarter, going to halftime up 29-26.
It was one of the better starts the Magic had produced for some time, needing to get their confidence back to prove to themselves that they can be front runners.
Wing attack Khao Watts played with far more conviction than in the last outing and it was some much needed direction.
The hosts opened up the biggest lead of the game in the early stages of the third period at 36-30, but the Vixens wouldn't go away.
They won the third quarter by one, which left the Magic with a 40-38 buffer heading into the final 15 minutes.
They started the last quarter with a roar and maintained their poise to finish off the job in front of a noisy near sell-out crowd.
- © Fairfax NZ News