In their final hit-out before the Grand Final in two weeks, the Northern Mystics delivered a strong dress rehearsal when shutting out a determined challenge from The Good Oil Tactix 63-59 in Christchurch on Sunday.
With their destiny in their own hands, a win would have secured the Tactix a home Elimination Final against the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel next Sunday but the loss means they are now consigned to a trip to Invercargill for the sudden-death clash.
After trimming a nine-goal halftime deficit to just three during an influential third stanza, the Tactix in front of nearly 5,000 supporters, were unable to maintain the momentum in the run to the finish line, the table-topping Mystics providing the necessary resistance to hold them at arms-length.
The Mystics showed their depth of talent to repel everything an equally talented Tactix could throw at them. With two weeks to prepare for the 8 August Grand Final, the Mystics were able to roll out all 12 of their squad as they overshadowed the Tactix in most facets.
In the only change from recent weeks, consistent goal attack Filda Vui got her first start of the season for the Mystics as the sides traded early blows when getting out of the blocks in impressive fashion.
Both sets of shooters opened accurately and confidently, the seamless transition through court leaving slim pickings for defensive turnovers. Respective goal attacks, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Vui, played strong support roles in taking their share of the shooting load with success.
In a quarter with minimal turnovers, a couple of late opportunities pushed the Mystics out to a handy 18-14 lead at the first break.
Things looked more promising for the home side on the resumption, taking a direct straight-line route to goal resulting in five quick unanswered goals to bring the pair back on level terms in the space of three minutes.
That burst, however, remained short-lived, the quick feeds to Mystics strike weapon Grace Nweke under the hoop leaving the defensive duo of Jane Watson and Karin Burger with limited opportunity to disrupt.
The Mystics replied with a five-goal burst of their own, mercurial wing attack Peta Toeava being a busy presence on attack and defence while the back three of Sulu Fitzpatrick, Kate Burley and Fa’amu Ioane provided the squeeze to slow the Tactix attackers.
Nweke’s influence continued to grow, a steady supply of ball finding its way into her safe keeping to help the Mystics build a an increasingly handy buffer while the Tactix found themselves in a hole when looking down a 35-26 halftime scoreline.
Showing they were far from done, the Tactix produced a dominant third stanza to keep the contest well and truly alive.
The injection of Erikana Pedersen at wing attack for the home side added a calming influence. Employing patience on attack and a productive midcourt zone all paid dividends as the Tactix chipped effectively into the deficit.
The interplay between shooters Ellie Bird and Selby-Rickit also played its part, the pair finding room to move and receive the ball in space to clear the way for unhindered shots at goal.
That forced a change from the bench, with former England captain Ama Agbeze taking over from Burley and the Mystics looking anxiously over their shoulder when having their lead cut to 47-44 at the last turn and the outcome of the match wide open.