NSW Swifts 49
The Northern Mystics are headed to the transtasman netball league finals, but they were nearly heading home last night with their heads in their hands.
The Auckland side battled to a one-goal win over the NSW Swifts at Trusts Stadium, nearly blowing the opportunity of a top-two finish and an extra life in the playoffs.
The win cemented second place on the ladder and will see the Mystics travel to Melbourne next weekend to take on the top-of-the-table Vixens in the major semifinal.
Like the Mystics, the Swifts have been horribly inconsistent this season, and you were never quite sure which side was going to turn up in Auckland - the one that lost to the bottom-of-the-table Canterbury Tactix earlier in the season, or the one that beat the top-placed Melbourne Vixens.
It turned out to be the latter, with the Swifts hungry and committed on defence, and patient and controlled on attack.
Trailing 39-35 heading in to the final period, the Mystics launched a stirring comeback, upping the intensity on defence to just get over the line.
While things looked hairy at times, Mystics captain Temepara George believed the tight, heated battle was just what her side needed heading in to the playoffs.
"I think we needed to be tested under that sort of pressure, and just to show ourselves that mentally we can pull ourselves out of that rut," said George.
A win was "non-negotiable" as far as George was concerned.
The Mystics were dealt a blow before the opening whistle with star defender Anna Harrison ruled out of the match with an injured calf. Rachel Rasmussen, who has had injury battles of her own this season, started at goal keep in the absence of Harrison.
Without their chief ball-getter, the Mystics' defensive unit did a good job of forcing turnover ball from the Swifts early on. But after a change to the Swifts' shooting line-up during an injury time-out early in the second quarter, in which Amy Wild was brought on to partner Susan Pratley, the Mystics struggled to make the same impact against the smaller, more mobile pairing.
The visitors continued to rattle the Mystics in the third quarter, with Sonia Mkoloma and Mo'onia Gerrard hassling the Auckland shooters.
The final round of the ANZ Championship saw the curtain come down on the careers of three former Silver Ferns - the Steel's Sheryl Scanlan, and Maree Bowden and Anna Galvan of the Tactix. All three signed off on a low note, with the Steel and Tactix both suffering heavy losses.
* The Vixens have won the minor premiership and will host the major semifinal against the Mystics, with the loser to get an extra life in the playoffs.
* The Thunderbirds are in third place for now after blitzing the Canterbury Tactix in their final round match-up.
* The Magic could yet leapfrog the Thunderbirds into third with a win over the Firebirds in Hamilton tonight.
* If the Magic lose tonight they can still make the finals, if the scoreline is close.By Dana Johannsen Email Dana