Log leaders the North West Flames had to fight hard to retain their unbeaten record in the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League (NPL) on Friday night. They beat the Kingdom Stars 46-39, but for the first time in the tournament, they looked vulnerable.
They had a comfortable 27-15 lead at halftime, but the Stars shocked them in the third quarter, winning it by 15 goals to nine. Coach Marchelle Maroun had made some changes, including bringing on two new players in the attacking circle, and the Stars found their mojo, leaving the Flames flat-footed.
In the final quarter, the teams traded goals, but the last five minutes had the small crowd roaring with excitement, as the Stars appeared to be on track to achieve a major upset.
Player of the match, Flames goal defence Fikile Mkhuzangwe, had an outstanding game, achieving a number of turnovers and unsettling the Stars’ attack.
“We always seem to have a slump in the third quarter,” she said.
“That is something we have to fix.”
“It was a tough and very physical game,” said Flames coach Dorette Badenhorst.
“The players learnt that they have to fend for themselves – no-one’s going to protect them in a tough match like this.”
Maroun said she regretted not having made the changes after the first quarter.
“The new combinations worked well, and if I had made the changes earlier, who knows what would have happened,” said Maroun.
The Stars play the Limpopo Baobabs on Saturday, and the Flames come up against the Gauteng Jaguars.
Earlier, The Southern Stings, who have lost only one match so far, taught the Limpopo Baobabs a netball lesson, beating them 73-36.
The Baobabs were the first to score, and were three-up before the Stings got their first goal. For most of the first quarter, they surprised the Western Cape team, and were only five goals behind at the end of the quarter.
“We let them push us around and play the way they wanted to,” said player of the match, Stings goal attack Charmaine Baard.
“But after that we did what our coach wanted and stuck to our own game plan, and that made the difference.”
The Stings pulled away from the Baobabs in the second quarter, and by halftime were 38-12 ahead, having allowed the Baobabs to score just four goals. In the third quarter, they scored 20 goals to 11 for the Limpopo side. The Baobabs fared better in the final quarter, scoring 13 goals to 15 for the Stings. Their goalshooter, Rahab Ngobeni, was solid under the post, and the team worked hard to get the ball to her, knowing she would almost always score.
Stings coach Elfreda Luyt had seized the opportunity to play some of her second string players, and was very happy with their performance.
“They practice together a lot and they trust each other,” she said.
“That means that when they throw the ball into a space, they know one of the teammates will collect it.”
Baobabs coach Cecilia Molokwane said she was pleased with the way her team had fought to the end.
“We have a problem in that we can’t practice very often because of the long distances,” she said.
“I was very pleased with Rahab, who was shooting very well.”
The Stings return to Cape Town on Saturday, but the Baobabs play the Kingdom Stars.
Molokwane said she couldn’t wait for that match.
“There’s always a great vibe when we play them, and my players always play their best when they play against the Stars,” said Molokwane.