Almost a year to the day since their last victory in the ANZ Championship, a courageous crusade by the EasiYo Tactix has been rewarded with a 54-51 win over the NSW Swifts in Christchurch.
Putting behind them a traumatic post-quake 2011 season in which they scored a solitary win, the Tactix tonight triumphed in a see-sawing round two battle with the Swifts, who were also searching for their first points of 2012.
It was an inaugural victory for new Tactix coach Leigh Gibbs, and a good part of it could be attributed to her decision to reshuffle the line-up when the team were trailing the Swifts by four at halftime.
The Tactix were troubled before the first whistle by a casualty list any coach would dread this early in the season. Imported English defender Stacey Francis’ calf injury will keep her off court for at least a fortnight, while young shooter Sophia Fenwick is on the mend from a leg injury.
But from the outset, captain Maree Bowden led by shining example at centre, having a hand in most interchanges in the first quarter, which saw the Tactix enjoying a four-goal lead for most of the 15 minutes. Shooters Ellen Halpenny and Jo Harten shared the shooting responsibilities to good effect, leading the Tactix to the benches with a 15-11 lead at the end of the first spell.
At the opposite end, goal attack Susan Pratley had a perfect record but the Swifts’ attack struggled to deliver the ball into her hands with enough regularity to make an early impact. Too often possession stolen by Swifts wing defence Mo’onia Gerrard, back from injury, was squandered further down court.
The Swifts employed a tidier, more assertive approach in the second quarter, and were rewarded by drawing level after five minutes. The pressure applied by Gerrard and goal defence Sonia Mkoloma was telling, turning the tables on the Tactix, now stuttering to drive into the shooting circle.
Centre Kim Green’s unstinting efforts on both defence and attack helped put the Swifts in the driving seat, 28-24, at the halftime break.
Gibbs was forced to rejig her side for the restart, moving Silver Fern Anna Thompson into the shooting circle with Harten, backed up by new midcourters Keshia Grant and Kiley Hikawai, with Anna Galvan taking on the goal defence duties.
Gibbs’ message to her players - drive the ball down court, rather than sideways – reaped an immediate response, and seven goals in rapid succession saw the Tactix reclaim the lead.
The game’s flow continued to be interrupted by errors and infringements, equating to neither team making a decisive break. But it was the Swifts, with goal shoot Carla Dziwoki coming in to her own (ending the game with 27 from 32 shots), who led 39-38 going into the final quarter.
And yet, the match was far from over, and intense pressure applied by Tactix defenders Galvan and Bessie Manu resulted in the home side snatching a four-goal advantage again with five minutes left on the clock that could not be bridged. Harten’s solid performance under the hoop, scoring 38 from 46, was one of the most heartening upshots of the night for Tactix fans.