Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Mystics pick up first win

The Mystic's Jessica Bourke defends Caitlin Thwaites of the Pulse. Photo / Michael Bradley
The Mystic's Jessica Bourke defends Caitlin Thwaites of the Pulse. Photo / Michael Bradley

Mystics 69 Pulse 68

After a week in which claims of in-fighting emerged, the Northern Mystics have picked up their first win of the season, causing an extra-time boilover against the Central Pulse.

Having opened the season with four straight losses - including a double extra-time loss to the Tactix last week - the meek Mystics were under huge pressure to start firing.

Trailing by six goals at halftime, it looked as though the match would go much the way the first four have for the home side. But a brilliant third quarter comeback, led by a much hungrier defensive effort put the Mystics in strong position to steal the win.

Captain Maria Tutaia, who rallied her troops strongly all night, fittingly slotted the goal that sent the match to overtime and later the winning shot to deliver the Pulse's top four credentials a massive blow.

While the Mystics did an impressive job of fighting their way back into the match, it was a controversial umpiring decision that gave the home side the opportunity to level the score at the end of regular time.
With 10 seconds to score off their own centre pass, Tutaia biffed a Hail Mary ball into Cathrine Latu, which was intercepted by Pulse captain Katrina Grant.

But Grant was called for contact, giving the Mystics a penalty shot after regulation time had sounded, which Tutaia calmly slotted.

Sitting bottom of the table after opening their season with four straight losses, it was clear change was needed in the Mystics line-up. Ruth Aitken responded by handing rookie Erikana Pederson her debut at wing defence, while Jessica Bourke was given the goal-keep bib after making somewhat of an impact when introduced in earlier games.

Stung by their embarrassing loss to the Tactix - the perennial strugglers in the competition last week - the Mystics started with strong resolve against the Pulse, showing more patience on attack they have all season.

Tutaia and Latu combined for some clever interplay early on to keep the Pulse defenders guessing. But down the other court it was the same old story, with the Mystics - who have conceded on average 73 goals this season - unable to disrupt the rhythm of the Pulse attack.

Incredibly, the Pulse did not commit turnover in the first quarter, with their patience on attack proving the difference as the visitors took a 19-15 lead at the first break, before stretching their advantage out to six at halftime.

A change to the Mystics defence end in the third quarter worked to provide some defensive bite at long last. Perhaps burnt from her demotion to the bench, Jess Moulds came on at goal keep to pick up several vital intercepts, while Kayla Cullen, who started at centre looked more comfortable in the wing defence bib.

With the Mystics finally making an impact defensively, closing down the space for the Pulse, the home side were able to make solid in-roads into their halftime deficit to close within one mid-way through the third period and make a real contest of the match.

The Thunderbirds and Fever provided the highly competitive Australian conference with a shake-up, both turning around results from the early rounds of the competition.

Humiliated by the Vixens in their round two meeting, the Thunderbirds edged out the Melbourne side 39-38 in a low-scoring slug-fest, while the Fever were big winners over the Swifts - a side that beat them by 14-goals in round one.

The Fever's 70-49 win boosted them into fourth on the ladder, ensuring the top four spots are now occupied by Australian teams, although the Magic will force their way back in if they beat the Tactix in Tauranga tonight.

- NZ Herald

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