Jacks cling narrowly to spotless record
Story by: JONATHAN MCKEOWN - Nelson Mail - Photo by: Chris Symes
Jacks have finished the regular season unbeaten - by the very slimmest of margins - while Stoke claimed the final playoff spot last night.
The top four teams in Nelson's premier grade netball now enter finals week.
Stoke held off a determined Wanderers side to clinch their semifinal place and even though Richmond failed to beat Jacks to cement second spot it turned out a draw was enough as Prices, with nothing to lose, hammered a woeful Waimea.
The makeup of the top four wasn't decided until the end of the final match at Saxton Stadium last night but, as it stands, top-placed Jacks will meet Richmond again as the top two finalists face off in the major semifinal next Thursday.
The loser of that match gets another life and will play the winner of the semifinal between Waimea and Stoke in the minor semifinal the following Saturday.
Consistently the best two teams over the season, Jacks OPD Richmond put their spotless record on the line against a Richmond Robbies Bar and Bistro side that are peaking at the right end of the season. After a monumental match that went goal for goal in the last quarter, Richmond missed the chance to claim victory with the final act of the game, the match ending in a well-deserved 54-all draw.
With both teams firing on the night and the abundance of talent across court in each side, this game was going to be decided by some key moments, and it came down to one final shot.
With time up, a contact call gave Richmond goal attack Nicki Rampton a shot on the very edge of the circle to win the match. As the ball left her fingertips the long shot looked goal-bound. The ball hit the edge of the rim on the way in, the shot bouncing in then out.
To get to that point every play had an impact in a match of the highest quality. Richmond converted the first turnover to take the early initiative. A missed shot compounded by a loose pass saw Richmond take a 17-12 lead into quartertime.
If the first quarter was impressive to watch with two teams playing flowing netball, the second was just as pleasing as the sides entered into a willing scrap with every pass contested. Richmond again took the points decision for a 30-24 halftime lead.
The big-game players stepped up for both sides and the absolute talent and class of Rampton was on show. To end the half Rampton popped a shot on the lean as she was headed over the sideline.
Centre Lisa Book was at her athletic best pulling in passes at every angle while in the air. Along with wing attack Sharon Finch they found a route into the circle with relative ease. Goal shoot Kathleen Thornalley's subtle movements allowed her to be an ever-present option.
Without the ball Richmond were like a constant Mexican wave, arms in the air from one end of the court to the other. In defence Kat Jones, Marina Tristram-Hirst and Belinda Koloamatangi gave Jacks their sternest test this season.
In opposition Jacks were never really settled, their defensive combinations changing multiple times in the first half.
But through the sheer tenacity and athleticism of players like centre Jodi Hikuroa and wing defence Moana Forbes Jacks fought back to lead 42-41 heading in to the final quarter.
Hikuroa's leadership and commitment were evident but moments of inspiration helped turn the match.
Never giving up on even the most impossible task, Hikuroa chased a tip across the sideline and while horizontal in mid-air she gathered the ball and offloaded out the back door to complete the turnover.
Jacks could also rely on the dynamic shooting combination of the composed Ani-Marie Waitai and the lively Leanne Cook - Waitai shooting 47 goals at 92 per cent. Jacks finally found the right defensive mix, the pairing of Phillippa Dean and Anna Miles both winning some crucial turnovers in the final quarter.
As the clock wound down the intensity wound up and a one-point lead was swapped for most of the final 15 minutes.
With 22 seconds left the game was there to be won with the scores locked and Richmond taking the centre pass, but it wasn't to be.
On court two Stoke NBS were chasing a playoff spot and they were well aware a win over Wanderers Taylors A would secure that. A fast first quarter allowed Stoke to enter a holding pattern as they took the match 71-57.
Stoke led 18-10 after the first quarter and 37-26 at the half.
It wasn't Stoke's best performance, with Wanderers reducing the lead to 52-43, but led by Megan Thomson shooting a round-high 50 goals, Stoke crashed the finals party. And, come the knockout stages Stoke are a dangerous prospect for every side.
Waimea College Senior A have had the wood over Stoke this season, but if last night's performance was anything to go by, Stoke will welcome a meeting in their semi.
Prices Pharmacy A put in one of their best performances of the season to whip Waimea 66-45 but it was to no avail. As good as Prices were, Waimea were average.
Waimea's performance looked pedestrian, and for a team that traditionally thrives when the pressure is on, that is a worrying sign heading into the finals.