The Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic over-ran the Southern Steel 59-53 in their trans-Tasman netball championship clash in Hamilton last night as the race for the top three spots in the New Zealand conference heats up.
The match, which pitted the second placed Steel against the third placed Magic, was always going to be a game of high stakes and desperation.
The two youngest teams in the league produced a match which ebbed and flowed throughout and where the lead changed hands numerous times, it was anyone's game.
Ultimately, it was the Magic who finished with a flourish to seal the deal.
The win lifts the Magic to second in the New Zealand conference behind the Northern Mystics, while the loss drops the Steel to third.
The injection of experienced goal attack Ellen Halpenny for the final quarter coupled with the growing stature of rising teenaged talent Samantha Sinclair, Jamie-Lee Price and Kristian Manu'a helped the home team overcome a tense and tight final stanza with a punishing finish.
Manu'a produced a fine effort against the continued threat of towering Steel shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid while Sinclair and Price were energetic and productive across the court in shutting down any sniff of a southern comeback.
In a change from recent weeks, Magic opted for athletic goal attack Malia Paseka to start the match while Steel replaced in-form injured defender Storm Purvis with Jane Watson.
With both teams desperate for the win in the chase for a play-offs spot, the arm wrestle was evident from the outset. Magic got away to the better start, producing smart attacking movement on attack with Paseka and Jo Harten, in her 50th match, providing the finishing touches.
The home team kept their noses in front initially but both teams were scrappy and inaccurate as opportunities went begging.
With neither team giving an inch in a very evenly matched contest, it was the visitors who finally gained the edge.
Well-performed defender Phoenix Karaka got her hands on a couple of late turnovers while goal attack Te Paea Selby-Rickit continued her growing maturity with a strong effort on attack as the Steel turned the tables to take a slim 30-29 lead into the main break.
The turnovers continued as did the momentum swings during a hotly contested third stanza after Magic swapped Jamie-Lee Price to centre and Sinclair to wing defence.
Showing better ball speed and accuracy around the circle, Magic gained the early upper hand. Ever-present shooter Harten was all class with her movement, sure hands and success rate under the hoop as Magic swung out to a four-goal advantage.
But as was the case through much of the match, neither side was able to impose any sense of authority, Steel surging back as a result of Magic errors to level proceedings up with six minutes of the spell remaining.