Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Magic win fifth straight to secure playoff spot

Jo Harten of the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic. Photo / Getty Images
Jo Harten of the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic. Photo / Getty Images

Magic 56
Tactix 55

Five straight losses followed by five straight wins.

The route taken by the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic to the ANZ Championship play-offs has been an unusual one, but then the New Zealand conference table has a bizarre look to it all round.

The Magic tonight secured their place in the ANZ Championship play-offs for the ninth straight season with a thrilling 56-55 win over the Mainland Tactix in Hamilton.

Hit hard by injuries early on in the year, the Magic opened their season with a run of five straight losses - four of those in the double figures. But they squared win-loss ledger tonight, edging out the fast-finishing Tactix to assure their place in the conference finals with three rounds remaining.

The Magic may struggle to maintain the momentum in their run into the play-offs however - they face a tough couple of weeks, taking on the unbeaten Southern Steel in Invercargill on Sunday, followed by the defending champion Queensland Firebirds in round 13.

It was a one-goal win over the Tactix in round seven that proved the turning point for the Magic's season. On that occasion the Tactix blew an eight-goal second quarter lead to allow the Magic to sneak through and steal the win.

Last night it was the Magic setting the pace, leading by 5-6 goals at each change of ends, before the Tactix steamed home to almost play the spoiler.

After leaking 81 goals against the Steel last week, the Tactix stepped up their defensive effort tonight as Jess Moulds and Zoe Walker, assisted by the outside defence, ensured there were few easy feeds into the Magic shooting circle.

The Magic attack had a different look to it tonight after starting shooter Malia Paseka withdrew from the team at the weekend, announcing she is pregnant.

Paseka, who made her debut for the Silver Ferns last year, had been restricted to half games for the past month, with Paula Griffin injected at halftime to close out matches.

Griffin did not prove as effective in the starting role for the Magic tonight, shooting just six goals in 23 minutes as she struggled to find space under the tight marking of Moulds.

After leading by five goals at the first break, a slow start to the second quarter from the Magic saw the Tactix close to within two goals, prompting another change to the home side's shooting end. This time English import Jo Harten moved into goal shoot, while Ellen Halpenny was injected off the bench for her first game in four weeks.

The change gave the Tactix defence something new to think about, helping restore the Magic's buffer back out to five goals at halftime.

While the Tactix produced strong patches of play in the third spell, they were answered each time by the Magic, who took a handy six-goal lead into the final spell.

Stretching that lead out to eight goals early in the fourth period, it looked as if the home side were going to cruise to victory. But a run of messy errors, and some clever play by the Tactix shooting pairing of Mwai Kumwenda and Bailey Mes saw the visitors threaten late.

- NZ Herald

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