Tears flowed freely from relieved Splice Construction Magic players after they pulled off their first win since the opening round of the ANZ Premiership way back in March.
But they waited until the final seconds to do it, keeping the home crowd at Claudelands Arena in Hamilton holding their breath, as the Magic stole a 37-36 victory from the hands of the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel.
The two sides are now on equal points at the bottom of the table, but this match was far from a battle for the wooden spoon.
Both teams were coming off tough losses over the weekend, but the Magic came out the more dynamic of the two.
Whakatane schoolgirl shooter Khiarna Williams has struck up a great relationship with the experienced Magic midcourters, Sam Winders and Whitney Souness, in the last few weeks. And in the opening quarter, Williams at goal attack was strong support for her goal shoot, Kelsey McPhee, who was willing to put up some long shots despite being under some fierce challenges from the Steel defenders.
On defence for the Magic, Holly Fowler and Georgia Tong were quick to nab loose ball and the home side built a four-goal lead, which they held at the first break, 13-9.
The Steel attack was more assertive at the start of the second quarter, Shannon Saunders and Gina Crampton bringing more order and vision as they closed to within one.
But a few errors in feeds swung the momentum back the Magic’s way, and a run of five goals put them back in control.
There was no lack of passion from either side. An impressive block from Erena Mikaere (the eventual MVP) at one end was followed by a trademark Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit intercept at the other - proving both teams were determined to score a win.
Abby Erwood came into the Steel defence, joining Selby-Rickit, and immediately helping to stem the Magic flow. This time the Magic’s six-goal lead was scythed back to one, 21-20, at halftime.
The Steel’s speedy goal attack Kalifa McCollin took on the weight of the shooting and had missed only one of her 16 in the first half. On the other side, McPhee hadn’t missed a shot for the Magic, but she was missing from the court at the start of the third quarter, replaced by Abigail Latu-Meafou.
The change in personnel had an immediate effect on the Magic as the communication between shooters and midcourters stuttered. The Steel capitalised and took a two-goal lead.
Kate Heffernan’s doggedness at wing defence helped the Steel hold their advantage. And even a change in the shooting circle, Kiana Pelasio coming on for McCollin, didn’t impact on their momentum.
Down 32-28 going into the final 12 minutes, the Magic brought McPhee back into their shooting circle. But it took two-and-a-half minutes before either side scored, such was the pressure and desperation from both.
Two crucial intercepts by Winders put the Magic back in the reckoning, fighting to be within one, but some errant shooting meant they couldn’t reclaim the lead.
Two clutch shots from Latu-Meafou tied up the scores with just over two minutes on the clock, and in the dying seconds, a steal from Souness was also converted by Latu-Meafou and the long-awaited win was in their hands.