It has been a tough season for the Bay of Plenty Gold netball team but when it really mattered they turned in easily their best performance of the season to beat Western 41-40 in the promotion-relegation battle at the Lion Foundation Netball Champs.
Bay of Plenty led 38-34 with five minutes to play in the final quarter but then conceded five straight goals to be facing a disappointing defeat until some inspired play by wing attack Simone Howe turned over possession.
Roared on by the home crowd at the TECT Arena, the Bay fought back and then tied up the game 40-40, after a fine pressure goal from goal attack Kendra Falefitu.
The Bay had the centre pass with 20 seconds left but could they do it?
It was all about keeping cool and getting the ball to Falefitu or goal shoot Arahi Wall, but it was never going to be easy and Western nearly stole the ball in the last frantic few seconds.
With time gone on the clock, Falefitu had a difficult shot to make and she drained it with aplomb, sparking wild celebrations from the Bay players and coaches.
Falefitu was a late replacement from Auckland to cover injuries last week and she finished with 13/17 shots, while Wall also had a good match shooting 25/30 under pressure. Harley Smith with 3/6 was the other goal attack used.
Bay of Plenty are in just their second season in the top league but many of their inexperienced players have struggled to make the transition so their form has been patchy at best.
But inspired by captain and Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic defender Erena Mikaere, who made four telling intercepts in the game, Bay of Plenty reached halftime still in touch with their more experienced opponents, trailing 25-19. Inspired by a halftime rev-up from coach Mary-Jane Araroa, the Bay Golds came out in the third quarter to play their best netball of the year and won it 15-4 to take a five-goal lead into the final quarter.
Araroa admits to giving her team a rollicking at halftime. "I got angry and I demanded they listen to me in terms of what they had to do on court," she said. "It was about standing in front of the mirror when you come off saying you gave 100 per cent. I reminded them we were not going down and do not deserve to be down in the second division.
"I am so proud of my team and I have to admit the season has been up and down. A lot of that was about self-belief and the girls really knowing they can play up at this division. If there was a game to leave their best it had to be today.
"This experience is a foundation for these girls now to move forward and hopefully we will get younger players wanting to play for the Bay."