Northern Mystics 63
West Coast Fever 51
The Northern Mystics side we had been expecting all season finally arrived at Trusts Stadium last night.
Their feisty, swashbuckling performance in their 12-goal win over the West Coast Fever was 12 rounds late, mind, but finally we saw a glimpse of what the immensely talented group were capable of.
When they look back on their largely disappointing season this will be the game the Mystics will single out as the example of what they should have been producing week-in, week-out.
They were committed on defence, energetic in their through-court play, and creative around the shooting circle to comprehensively outplay a Fever side that while ninth in the transtasman league standings, are a very strong outfit.
Most important of all, they proved extremely resilient, never dropping their heads when they dug themselves a five-goal hole in the opening quarter, and then again early in the second.
Picking a stand-out performer for the homeside was difficult, with many putting their hands up - young gun Temalisi Fakahakatau had a superb game against Australian Diamonds shooter Caitlin Bassett; Bailey Mes, plugging a hole in the Mystics injury-hit midcourt was impressive at wing attack, delivering good ball into the circle and even collecting three intercepts; and shooter Cathrine Latu produced a gutsy performance at goal-shoot, winning a physical and at times heated battle with Fever defender Eboni Beckford-Chambers.
While Mystics captain Maria Tutaia wouldn't have produced the numbers she would have hoped for shooting-wise, hitting just 24 of her 35 shots at goal, the star goal attack was also influential in her 100th ANZ Championship appearance.
Tutaia's counterpart at the Fever, Natalie Medhurst, also brought up the big 100 in Auckland last night, but her side were unable to make it a memorable occasion for her having come up against a Mystics side desperate to finish their season on a positive note.
With both sides stacked with international talent, it was expected they would feature prominently in the play-offs race this year, and last night's fixture would play a crucial role in determining the top four. But with the Mystics and Fever having been ousted from finals contention several weeks ago, the battle was for little more than pride.
Such was the intensity of the clash early on you could be forgiven for thinking finals spots were on the line, with the match going goal-for-goal in a frenetic opening to the match. The Fever seized the advantage first though, with their defensive pairing of Beckford-Chambers and Josie Janz doing a good job of getting inside the shooters' heads.
The Mystics managed to regain their composure later in the quarter to limit the damage to 17-15 at the first break.
Fakahokotau opened the second quarter with two big intercepts, set-up with the aid of her outside defenders, to bring the game back to level pegging, only for the Mystics to promptly dig themselves another five-goal hole through poor execution on attack.
They were quickly able to remedy the problem though, as a couple of inspirational defensive stops helped fuel the intensity in the attack end.
Leading 30-29 at halftime, the Mystcis produced a rollicking third quarter, outscoring the Fever 18-9 for the period to stamp their dominance on the match and set up the impressive victory.