Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Magic win in overtime thriller

Magic captain Laura Langman. Photo / Getty Images.
Magic captain Laura Langman. Photo / Getty Images.

Magic 65
Firebirds 62

Mystics 44
Swifts 63

They've always been a bit of an enigma, the Magic.

Just when you think you have them pegged and you can safely write off their chances for another year, they come up with something special.

A loss to the Southern Steel last weekend, which saw the Magic surrender their spot in the top four, led to many citations of the dreaded premiership curse - a curious anamoly in the transtasman league where all the defending champions have failed to make the finals the following year.

With a tough away trip against the in-form Queensland Firebirds looming next up, the Magic were expected to slip further off the pace today. But after two heavy losses on their previous trips across the Tasman this season, the Magic produced a brilliant fighting display on the Gold Coast, fending off the Firebirds in extratime.

The 65-62 win was reminiscent of the same back-against-the-wall mentality we saw from the Magic in last year's remarkable title run, after they opened the 2012 season with four straight losses.

Just as they did against the Adelaide Thunderbirds in round seven, the Magic started the match strongly, storming their way out to an 8-2 lead after six minutes. But unlike their match against the Thunderbirds, the Magic were able to maintain their intensity when the inevitable fightback came from the Firebirds.

Magic captain Laura Langman said her side's ability to absorb the pressure showed they had learnt from their previous losses on Australian soil this year.

"Our whole focus was to maintain that intensity right throughout. In the past we've been guilty of making lapses and it's really cost us, so we knew we had to be solid," said Langman.

Leading by three goals with just under two minutes on the clock, the Magic would have been disappointed not to have secured the match in regular time after an offensive penalty from Ellen Halpenny gave the Firebirds the chance to send the game into extra time. It still took a piece of brilliance from the homeside to do so though, with Romelda Aiken landing a penalty shot after the final whistle had blown after collecting a long-bomb from Chelsea Pitman with seconds left on the clock.

With the Firebirds enjoying the early running in extra time, it looked as though the Magic had used up all their reserves in the fourth quarter. But a deflection from Leana de Bruin late in the first period of extra time, kept the Magic in touch at the change of ends, trailing 59-57.

A run of three straight goals saw the Magic draw the game level at 60-all with four and a half minutes remaining, before defender Casey Kopua came up with the decisive play of the game, taking a clutch intercept to give the visitors a slight buffer heading into a frantic final 60 seconds.

While the Magic excelled away from home, the luckless Northern Mystics suffered another ugly defeat in Australia, crashing to a 19-goal loss to the NSW Swifts - the team sitting one place above them on the ladder.

While the Mystics have been flat out awful all season, the ninth-placed Swifts have shown real fight - suffering narrow losses to competition heavyweights the Melbourne Vixens and Adelaide Thunderbirds over the past two weeks. The gulf in class between the two bottom-placed teams was exposed today, as the Swifts blitzed their way to a 63-44 win.

The Mystics cause was not helped by two key injuries in the defence end.

With starting defender Jess Moulds unable to make the trip to Sydney due to injury, the Mystics opted to start versatile star Kayla Cullen back at goal keep, pairing up with Australian import Julie Corletto. The new combination did well early on to combat the shorter, more mobile Swifts shooting line-up, but their partnership only lasted one quarter with Corletto limping unable to return to the court after the first break due to knee soreness.

That was just the beginning of the seemingly endless rotation in the Mystics line-up, with all 12 players getting a run during the game as the Auckland side battled to find the right mix to combat the determined Swifts, who have suffered close losses to the Thunderirds and Vixens in recent weeks.

- NZ Herald

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