Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic continued their late run at the ANZ Championship semifinals. turning back the challenge of upstarts Central Pulse 52-42 at Tauranga today.
After opening their campaign with four losses, the Magic have now won six straight to hover menacingly just two points outside the top four and the top of the table. But for three quarters, they were given all they could handle by the Pulse, enjoying a three-win run of their own and their best season since the competition began.
Perhaps sensing the significance of the occasion, the visitors started the game in tentative fashion, turning over their first three possessions and allowing the Magic to score the opening four goals. That advantage reached five goals midway through the quarter, with shooter Irene Van Dyk not missing a beat in the attacking circle.
But as the underdogs settled into their work, their defence brought them back into the contest to trail just 11-12 at the first break.
Skipper Katrina Grant was particularly prominent from goalkeep, snatching four intercepts in the first half as her side slowly took control. They scored the first three goals of the second period with Aussie shooter Caitlin Thwaites edging them ahead for the first time.
At one point, the Pulse rattled in five straight goals to extend their advantage to six, but the Magic came storming back either side of halftime, producing a 7-1 run that saw them reclaim momentum and the lead. Van Dyk was a faultless 12/12 on goal, but had only lined up four shots over the second stanza, less than less illustrious attack partner Julianna Naoupu and less than half the number attempted by counterpart Thwaites for Central.
Waikato/BOP needed to get their ace more involved and immediately did so on the restart, finding her in her familiar spot under the net
Another to lift her performance for the Magic was Silver Ferns defender Casey Williams as the supply of ball into the Pulse circle simply dried up. They managed just 12 shots on goal against their opponents' 18, and with Van Dyk and Naoupu missing just once in the third period, their team stretched out to 38-33 entering the home straight.
Pulse scored first in the final quarter to shave the deficit to four, but that was their last shot in anger. The Magic rolled out six consecutive goals to force the margin to double figures and that was the final difference.
Van Dyk narrowly missed out on her third perfect game of the season, wayward with 6m 36s remaining, but regathering the rebound to score anyway. Superior fitness told as Central matched their rivals for opportunities down the stretch, but couldn't take full toll, shooting just 9/15 over the final 15 minutes.
"At halftime, we really knew we had to put the pedal to the ground," admitted Magic captain Laura Langman. "We showed some really good composure.
"We've still got a 'hu-mendous' amount of pressure on us and are still taking things one week at a time."
Next Sunday, they face a major obstacle in the Northern Mystics - the top-ranked New Zealand team in the championship - in Auckland. The Pulse, now 5-6 for the season, enjoy a bye next week.