Cold Power Magic retained their title as New Zealand Conference Champions after posting an upset 59-57 win over the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel in Invercargill on Sunday.
The only team to play in every Finals Series in the nine years of the ANZ Championship, Magic showed all their experience and resilience to cement a home Semi-Final for next weekend while inflicting the Steel’s first loss this season.
Played at a cracking pace throughout, a dominate opening half set up the Magic’s win. Buoyed by their tough win in last week’s Elimination Final, the visitors retained their momentum to shut down the Steel and leave them in unfamiliar territory.
Coming into the match on an unbeaten 13-game streak, the Steel delivered a strong second half comeback but Magic absorbed everything the home team could throw at them, even when the Steel drew level with six minutes to play.
The link on attack between pivot Grace Rasmussen and shooter Jo Harten, the game’s MVP, was key for the Magic, the visitor’s through-court transitional play almost faultless in its timing, accuracy and speed.
England international Harten was in sparkling form under the hoop as the Magic bolted out to a 19-13 lead at the first break.
It was more of the same on the resumption, the Steel forced into uncharacteristic errors as a confident Magic continued to dictate across the court.
Nineteen-year-old in-circle defender Abby Erwood was on for her Steel debut midway through the second stanza in a bid to stem the Magic flow as the lead stretched out to 10. But with the visitors enjoying more scoring opportunities and the defence line – with Jamie-Lee Price a prominent figure – limiting the Steel’s attacking momentum, Magic retained their grip on the game when taking a 35-27 lead into the main break.
Lifting their intensity, the Steel stirred into fightback mode during a highly-charged third quarter to prune back the deficit.
Getting more ball into the hands of prolific shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid as well as big efforts from centre Shannon Francois and rookie Erwood, the Magic faced some testing moments. Showing more impetus in all areas, Steel made inroads with extra turnover opportunities to ensure a more even contest.
But it was Harten who remained a key influence, the Magic shooter playing an impressive hand under the hoop to keep the visitors 47-42 in front at the last break.