The Central Pulse opened their account for 2011 with a dramatic 46-43 win over Canterbury Tactix in Palmerston North today.
In a desperate battle between the two winless teams in the ANZ Championship, Pulse recorded just the third win in their history. With it they broke their habit of dropping the close ones, despite a wobbly third quarter, to come home strongly and absorb a pressure-filled final 15 minutes.
Shooting veteran Donna Wilkins and her up-and-coming partner Ellen Halpenny got Tactix away to positive start, creating plenty of movement and accuracy under the hoop as the visitors skipped out to an early lead.
Showing their trademark grittiness, Pulse plugged away determinedly but required plenty of patience on attack as they found breaching their attacking third difficult. Centre Maree Bowden and wing defence Phillipa Finch did a fine job in providing strong midcourt defence for Tactix, disrupting Pulses attacking movement with a string of turnovers.
But Pulse hung onto their opponents coat-tails, clawing their way back through strong midcourt defence of their own from Cushla Lichtwark and Daya Pritchard. Tactix went off the boil, bustled into turnovers but still managing to hold a narrow 11-10 first quarter advantage.
Pulse quickly scored the next two goals on the resumption to take the lead for the first time and from there dictated terms for the rest of the quarter.
A noticeable lift in intensity was evident from the home team as in-circle defenders Katrina Grant and Victoria Smith kept the Tactix shooters quiet while picking up productive turnover ball.
At the other end of the court, Pulse shooters Caitlin Thwaites and Amber Bellringer provided more options with their movement while their radars were spot-on under the hoop as the home team forged out to a four-goal lead.
Tactix responded with a host of changes, captain Bowden going to wing attack, Finch to centre and Finau Pulu off the bench to wing defence. Moments later Anna Galvan took over at goalkeeper from Jamaican import Kasey Evering.
This all had little effect on the Pulse, who rode a wave of confidence as they surged towards halftime. Simple errors continued to cost the Tactix as the Pulse thrived, Australian import Thwaites relishing a flurry of long bombs from Millie Lees as the home team swept into the main break with a 28-22 lead.
More changes after halftime with Anna Thompson going to goal shoot, Wilkins to goal attack, Galvan to goal defence and Evering back on at goalkeeper helped in a revival of fortunes for Tactix.
The visitors slowly edged their way back into contention, a six-goal unanswered streak drawing them level with four minutes of the third spell to go. Wilkins was a tower of strength in the circle and on defence while Pulse entered familiar territory with their shooting falling away as the pressure mounted. With the scores tied at 35-all, an exciting finale was ensured in the run home.
Both teams threw everything into a nail-biting final 15 minutes where there was never more than a goal in it as the tension continued to mount between two desperate teams, who could not be separated. A missed Tactix goal two minutes from time opened the door for Pulse.