The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic have given their finals campaign a major boost by earning home advantage for the minor semifinal.
Needing to win their last regular season game against the Northern Mystics in Mt Maunganui by about 25 goals to better the goal percentage of the Firebirds - who they were tied on points with - the Magic got the job done with a convincing, but in the circumstances, thrilling 68-40 victory.
That earns the defending champions third spot and they will host the Firebirds in the 3 v 4 sudden death clash, at Hamilton's Claudelands Arena on Sunday (7.20pm tip-off), while the 1 v 2 major semifinal, which sees the Adelaide Thunderbirds host the Melbourne Vixens, will also be on Sunday, at 2.15pm (NZT).
The home advantage is a crucial fillip for the Magic's hopes of a title defence and means they would now need to win two, not three, consecutive matches across the ditch.
They have now won five matches in succession and take plenty of momentum into the weekend.
Irene van Dyk, who turned 41 last Friday, was outstanding, shooting 46/48 while goal attack Ellen Halpenny netted 22/24.
When the Magic opened up a 6-1 lead early the signs looked positive, but they weren't able to kick on until later in the piece.
With three minutes to play in the first quarter the Mystics' injury curse crippled them further when they lost goal shoot Bailey Mes to a knee injury, though they had a more than able replacement in Cathrine Latu (20/22), but her and Maria Tutaia (18/23) were starved of the ball.
The Magic went to quarter time up 13-9, sinking 100 per cent to the Mystics' 64.
Unable to find any real rhythm, the hosts then suddenly kicked into gear, with some sensational Laura Langman drive running 18-year-old Erikana Pederson ragged and leading to her benching.
But helped by the visitors' timeout, that surge was killed and the Magic went back to a stuttering attack, heading to halftime with a 28-19 lead, which, in the circumstances, was not at all ideal.
The home side came out strong in the third quarter, with van Dyk nailing seven shots in the first four and a half minutes and getting the Magic out to 35-21, at which point the Mystics called a 'tactical' timeout.
But the goals kept coming for the Magic and they got to an 18-goal advantage halfway through the third period, and the intensity in their defensive end lifted also.
The Magic won the penultimate quarter 20-10, with van Dyk slotting 16, giving the hosts a 48-29 lead going into the final quarter.
Van Dyk sent a scare through the camp in the first minute of the fourth quarter when she was treated for a knock to the shin, but she recovered well.
The Mystics cut the lead to 18, before the Magic scored four on the trot.
They kept building their lead but Tutaia kept them honest with her traditional long bombs.
The Magic bench and coaches became very vocal at the end and screamed at their team-mates to get them home.
The intensity of the finish mirrored a playoff game and that will serve the Magic well ahead of Sunday.
Magic 68 (13-15-20-20) Mystics 40 (9-10-10-11)
- Fairfax Media
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