Mystics complete season sweep over Stars
The Northern Mystics completed a clean sweep of the Barfoot & Thompson Northern Challenge when posting a 69-61 win over cross-town rivals the Robinhood Stars in Auckland on Sunday.
In the process of recording a club record of five straight wins, the Mystics won all three match-ups against the Stars this season to reinforce their position at the top of the table. Breaking the Stars first centre pass set the tone for the home side, who ground out a close examination, time and again being able to repel all that was thrown their way.
Peta Toeava and Grace Nweke combined with the game smarts of captain Sulu Fitzpatrick were once again key factors for the Mystics who continue to grow their performance and ability to close out matches.
The Stars competed gamely throughout but were completely shut out down the home straight, missing out on a bonus point which for much of the last stanza was there for the taking.
Goal attack Jamie Hume was back for the Stars after missing last week with a shoulder tweak in the only change to the previous round’s starting line-ups.
The Mystics set a familiar tone with the money ball being on getting as much possession as possible into the hands of prolific 1.93m shooter Nweke. And that’s how it played out, the home side delivering a seamless and efficient transfer into the circle.
What she didn’t convert first-up, Nweke effortlessly mopped up with her ability to also dominate the rebound stakes.
The Stars were forced to show more patience but managed to stay within touching distance but three goals in a row late in the piece helped the Mystics post their best quarter of the competition when taking a 20-16 lead after a high-scoring opening stanza.
In-circle defenders Anna Harrison and Elle Temu swapped positions on the resumption, the veteran Harrison moving out to goal defence as the levels of intensity lifted from both sides.
Both sides got more turnover opportunities after a goal-for-goal stalemate dominated the opening few minutes. The timing and speed of the Mystics attack line left the Stars few options defensively but with Harrison having more room to roam freely, opportunities presented.
Harrison and Gina Crampton turnovers helped the Stars make a little push, leaving them poised to get back on level terms. But they were unable to take advantage, the Mystics keeping them at arms-length and leaving the Stars with work to do when the home side took a 36-33 lead into the main break.
The Stars continued to press their opponents all the way in an evenly-contested third stanza which included goal attack Monica Falkner being thrust into the heat of battle for the first time since Round 1 after coming back from a knee injury.
At the other end, Filda Vui also made her presence felt from the goal attack position when replacing Bailey Mes. Providing a valuable support role to Nweke, Vui was a picture of poise as a relentless Stars refused to take a backward step.
With captain Maia Wilson standing up strongly under the hoop, three unanswered goals helped the Stars level the scores as a goal-for-goal exchange dominated. Both sides made changes at goalkeeper with veteran England international Ama Agbeze coming on for the Mystics and Oceane Maihi taking over the custodian’s role at the other end.
Once again, it was the Mystics who finished the stronger when they headed into the final break with a 53-49 lead but still far from out of the woods.