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The Eastern Cape Aloes gave the defending champions, the Free State Crinums, a run for their money in their Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League match at the Ellis Park Indoor Arena on Saturday night.

Although the Crinums won the match by 52 goals to 42, the Aloes kept pace with them for the first three quarters, and it was only the Crinums’ superior fitness and experience that pulled them through.  After the first quarter, the Crinums led 11-9, but the Aloes drew level at 16-all halfway through the second quarter, which ended 21-all.

The turning point in the game came just before the end of the third quarter, when Aloes’ defence Nobubele Phuza was sent off for two minutes and the Crinums scored four goals while she was off the court.  The Crinums were 37-33 ahead at the end of the third quarter.  In the final quarter, the Aloes ran out of steam, although they continued to play their hearts out.  Their centre, Arne Rust, had a superb game, marshaling her team and turning over balls against Protea centre, Lauren-Lee Christian.

“I’m immensely proud of the girls,” said Aloes coach Des Neville.

“It was good to see them fight right to the end.  I think if Nobu (Phuza) had been sent off earlier, they would have been able to overcome the deficit, but they were on their last legs.  I didn’t make any changes because I thought they all deserved to stay on the court.”

Proteas and Crinums captain Maryke Holtzhausen, who was player of the match, praised the Aloes for the way they played.

“We’ve seen them grow through the tournament, and  they gave us a really competitive match.”

Crinums coach Burta de Kock is ill and her assistant, Dineo Lentoa, said it had been a very physical game, but in the end, the Crinums’ fitness and mental strength had pulled them through.

The North West Flames retained their unbeaten record with a resounding 79-28 win over the Limpopo Baobabs.

The Flames have been the most exciting team at the tournament and appear to be heading for the final.  They exerted their dominance from the start, and the Baobabs battled throughout.

The Flames defence did a good job in keeping the ball from the Baobabs tall and accurate goalshooter, Rahab Ngobeni, and goalkeeper Zandre Kruger was deservedly named player of the match.

“It was quite a challenge to play against another tall player,” said Kruger.

“We all enjoyed the match and it was a chance to work on our game plans.”

Flames coach Dorette Badenhorst said the match against one of the weakest teams in the tournament had given her the opportunity to try out various new combinations and to expose some of her younger players.

“A few players are still struggling to get into game form, but I was pleasantly surprised by some of the new combinations that I tried,” she said.

In the final match of the day, the Golden Fireballs achieved a comprehensive 64-32 victory over the Mpumalanga Sunbirds.  The Sunbirds held their own for the first quarter, and were just two goals behind, but after that, the Fireballs took control.  At halftime, they were 31-16 ahead.  When Fireballs goalkeeper Simphiwe Sahebe was sent off just before the end of the third quarter, the Sunbirds were unable to capitalise and failed to score any goals while they had only one defender to pass in the circle.  However, the Sunbirds never gave up and fought hard to the end.

“It was a very physical but enjoyable game,” said player of the match Cleopatra Kgoputso, the Fireballs wing attack.

“The Sunbirds never stopped trying.”

Fireballs coach Elsje Jordaan said she had hoped for a bigger winning margin to help with goal averages, but she was generally pleased with her team’s performance.

“I think they were a bit complacent at the start, and we need to limit our unforced errors,” said Jordaan.

“But after that they pulled themselves together.”

Sunbirds coach Jenne-Lee Delport said she thought her team had started brilliantly.

“I love it when a coach starts with a second-string line-up and has to make changes,” she said.

“We have learnt a lot from this tournament.  Our goal shooting averages are still not good enough but we are making progress.  Next week we have two very tough matches, against the Crinums and the Stings, and after that we will be fighting to finish in seventh place overall.”