A staunch NSW Swifts side had to pull out all the stops to overcome a full-of-heart KIA Magic team, 48-43, in Tauranga tonight.
The Magic yet again had to wrestle with injury woes, but managed to keep in touch with the Swifts, who gave a committed team performance through the court. The fast and furious affair was also a showcase for an exciting new generation of players, the likes of shooters Stephanie Wood and Malia Paseka, and mid-courters Jamie-Lee Price and Sam Sinclair.
The Magic stole a march on their opponents early in the match, up 8-4 halfway through the first spell. Centre Sam Sinclair, who came into the starting line-up to replace the injured Courtney Tairi, had little trouble slipping into Magic’s attack and forging an understanding with shooter Jo Harten.
At the other end, goal keep Kristiana Manu’a made the most of celebrating her 20th birthday, starting with the same zest she’d shown in the Magic’s opening game; her enthusiasm and vision providing a perfect blend with the experience of Leana de Bruin.
Down by four, the Swifts began to pour defensive pressure on the Magic; led by the ever-vigilant Julie Corletto, they made it a tough task for the home team to find easy avenues through to their shooters. That translated into a run of three goals which brought the Swifts back in touch and trailing by just one, 12-11, at the first break.
Wing attack Kim Green, in typically dynamic form, made sure the Swifts continued their momentum into the next quarter, and quickly drew in front.
But the momentum stopped dead – and the Magic bench leapt to their feet - when Harten copped an accidental whack to the chest and fought to catch her breath. Determined to play on, Harten immediately put Magic back on the front foot, but minutes later, stretching for the ball, she aggravated the injury and had to be replaced by Malia Paseka.
That disruption played into the hands of the Swifts. Caitlin Thwaites, sharp under the hoop and quick on the rebound, ensured the Swifts held the advantage, 23-21, at halftime. But with the defensive units of both teams in control, neither team had assumed the upper hand, leaving the second half open to bargaining.
In a major tactical change, the Swifts brought on Stephanie Wood to make her ANZ Championship debut at goal attack, on for Australian Diamonds’ veteran Susan Pettitt. It was a move that appeared to pay dividends, with Wood using clever footwork to get around her Magic rivals, and the visitors extended their lead. But when the Magic adjusted to some midcourt shuffles - Jamie-Lee Price finding her feet at centre - and Paseka finding the goal, the home side went on a scoring spree, and seven straight successful shots rocketed them back into contention.
Tied up 34-34 going into the final spell, it was the young shooters who kept the crowd on the edge of their seats: Paseka using her incredible leap to elude Corletto, while Wood impressing with her true, high shots at the other end to support Thwaites.
But the Swifts eventually wore down the Magic’s new young connections by stepping up their defence to another level, and the dependable midcourt pairing of Green and Paige Hadley calmly setting up their shooters and determining the final outcome.