Most interest on day three of Women's Basketball Championship (WBC) play in Nelson on Sunday centred around which team would claim the sixth and final play-off spot.
Entering the penultimate game of the day Capital Flyers, Nelson Sparks and Taranaki Thunder, all vying for that sixth spot, had three wins apiece.
Taranaki had the superior points differential record meaning Nelson Sparks needed to beat Waitakere Lady Rangers to edge out both Taranaki and Capital.
The Sparks found themselves 23-19 in arrears at quarter time against Watakere Lady Rangers and it got worse for the hosts as a Chevannah Paalvast inspired Rangers took control of the contest with an 18-0 run. Fresh from her Australian WNBL success with Townsville Fire Paalvast was in terrific form scoring 25 first half points to give her team a 50-32 lead at the break.
Kat Jones (20pts) and Jodi Hikuroa-Jeffrey (28pts) kept the scoreboard ticking over for the Sparks but despite plenty of vocal encouragement they were unable to threaten the Lady Rangers control of the game. Shooting a highly respectable 42% (19/32) from three point range the visitors eased out to a 96-73 victory on the back of 42 points from Paalvast, a competition high this season.
A philosophical Kat Jones was disappointed but paid credit to the opposition.
"The game got away from us in the second quarter and whilst we didn't allow the margin to increase in the second half we were not able to get enough stops to threaten their lead."
"We are not used to playing against a player of Chev Paalvast's ability and also Deena Franklin was outstanding"
Earlier in the day Taranaki Thunder appeared to be heading for their fourth win of the campaign when they led ACM Lady Hawks 50-38 at three quarter time and were still ahead 57-54 with three minutes to play. Unfortunately the Thunder failed to score in the final four minutes of the game and fell to a 66-57 defeat.
Taranaki guard Jenna Kensington scored 15 points and Jess Tuki produced the stats line of the tournament 18pts/17rebs/3a/3b/3st but it was not enough as a 30 points haul from Jordan Hunter inspired an ACM come from behind victory.
Capital Flyers recorded a third straight win to keep their faint top six hopes alive. The Flyers, paced by impressive guard Kayla Kiriau (26pts), proved too good for Tauranga City Coasters winning 72-49. The Coasters were well in contention at half-time trailing by single digits but faded in the second half. Captain Courtney Wilson scored 13 points and the tireless Tayla Kendrick had 6 points to go with 16 rebounds but it was Capital that took the honours.
Leanne Walker was forced into action for an undermanned Waikato Wizards in their encounters with Oceana Gold Rush Otago and Taranaki Thunder. The fourty-six year old former Olympian played 16 minutes as the Wizards fell 68-46, trailing throughout, against the Gold Rush. Once again Otago produced a balanced scoring effort headed by 14 points each from Aleisha Ruske and Soraya Umaga-Jensen. Forward Kelcy Ballanytyne had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Wizards.
Walker did even better against Taranaki scoring 9 points in 23 minutes although it was daughter Krystal who did most the damage as Waikato edged a tight one 58-56. Krystal scored 14 points and forward Miriam Stevens 13 points for the Gold and Blacks. Jess Tuki scored 17 points for the Thunder and Joellen How chipped in with 9 points.
The Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats breezed to a comprehensive 68-26 win against Te Tai Tokerau Phoenix to preserve their unbeaten record. Jaimee Lee-Tito (15pts/8rebs) led the scoring and rebounding for the Phoenix but the collective ability of the Wildcats proved too much for the Northerners. Import Ashley Gayle had a double double of 15 points and 13 rebounds for the 'Cats' who also had four players with 8 points.
So it is Taranaki Thunder that will join Canterbury, Otago, Waikato, ACM and Waitakere in the championship section when the WBC comes to an exciting conclusion in Porirua next month.
Taranaki coach Angelo Hill was delighted with the efforts of his young team.
"We have five players still at school and another just out of school so for this group to have made the top six is a credit to their effort and commitment. The older players have been excellent in mentoring the younger one's and there is a really good spirit in the team."
"We just need to stay healthy between now and the next tournament in Porirua in order to give a good account of ourselves. I'm enjoying coaching this team and they have come a long way in a short time."
Oceana Gold Rush Otago will host Canterbury Wildcats in Dunedin on April 17 in the final round robin game of the season. That fixture will determine top seeding in this season's WBC competition.