Netball: Magic march to semis continues

By Kelly Exelby

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The Central Pulse arrived in Tauranga having never beaten Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in nine previous attempts, but must have fancied their chances of a boilover at Baypark's TECT Arena last night after jumping to a 22-16 lead late in the second quarter.

In the end though, Magic, the transtasman league's perennial playoff participants, scored a sixth-straight win, downing the Pulse 52-42 with a near-flawless second half to continue their surge into semifinal country. The 10-goal margin was the same as in the sides' first meeting this season.

The Pulse had been flying high with three wins in a row of their own but ran out of puff. The game was vital for both sides gunning for the playoffs and both went into last night's clash, in front of another near-sellout crowd, on 10 competition points each.

But any outside chances the Pulse had of making the playoffs were doused by the Magic and they will have to regroup this week with the bye. Magic will aim to keep their season alive when they head to Auckland for a showdown with the Northern Mystics, with their record of making the playoffs every season the transtasman league has been in existence still very much a reality.

Laura Langman said the team weren't getting ahead of themselves despite moving to fifth spot with the win, which leaves them one victory outside of the top four.

"I think we fell into the trap at the start of the competition (where they didn't record a victory until round five) of worrying about the outcomes, so we've really taken our whole approach back to basics."

Ten goals wasn't a fair representation of the difference between the teams but the Magic finished with a flurry and blew the game out in the fourth quarter, although it was in the third quarter that the game swung back as Magic dominated that period 17-9 on the back of some great defensive-end intercepts by goal keep Leana de Bruin, whose battle with Pulse's Aussie goal shoot Caitlin Thwaites under the hoop could have been an audition for a Greco-Roman wrestling match.

Veteran shooter Irene van Dyk, who turns 40 this month, shot 34 from 35, with her ally Julianna Naoupu warming into the game too, but it was the Pulse who faded with Thwaites and Paula Griffin combining to shoot 42 from 55 under extreme pressure from de Bruin and Casey Williams - not good enough to keep them in the game.

Langman said there was concern but no panic when Pulse jumped to their big lead. "We were down by six but showed really good ability to change a game plan within a short space of time and execute it. There was no nerves or panic from the girls but we knew for sure that it would be a grind to work our way back into it."

Magic played a flatter, smarter game in the third quarter, changing the angles of the ball and trying to avoid the physical battle they were losing.

They aren't there yet but after last night's gutsy fightback Magic are sniffing around the top four and have shown, with the New South Wales Swifts, Queensland Firebirds, Thunderbirds, Northern Mystics and Vixens, they're a class above the rest.

In yesterday's earlier games, the Thunderbirds knocked over the Queensland Firebirds 54-49 in South Australia, while the NSW Swifts moved into fourth spot with a 51-49 victory over the West Coast Fever in Perth.

The Northern Mystics can take an outright lead at the top of the ladder if they defeat the Southern Steel in Auckland tonight.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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