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From the intensity on court at the Olive Convention Centre in Durban on Friday it was clear that the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League has entered the playoff stages. And while the four teams playing on Friday night may have been playing for the bottom places in the competition, they were certainly no less fired up.
The Eastern Cape Aloes boosted their hopes of finishing as high as possible this weekend with a 49-29 victory over the Northern Cape Diamonds.
While the final margin of victory may suggest a walkover – it was far from that, particularly in the first quarter. It was battle of note for the first 10 minutes before the Eastern Cape side managed to edge ahead and reached the first break 12-7 up.
Once in their groove, however, the Aloes didn’t look back and steadily built up a significant lead with goal defence and player of the match Zanele Vimbela making life difficult for the Diamonds shooters.
“I find that the players take a while to get into the game so the first quarter is always a bit touch and go – you never know how that’s going to end up,” admitted Aloes coach Des Neville after the match. “So I was really pleased with how the players settled down after the first 5-10 minutes and really just kept their composure throughout the game.
“I think there are a lot of things the team have been working on – even not physically but that we’ve been talking about – that are starting to come through so that’s really inspiring and I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” added Neville.
Diamonds coach Elsje van der Merwe said: “It was a tough one but I think we started very well and we were in the game until the third quarter. I think just in the fourth quarter we let go and started forcing balls at the shooting circle.”
Meanwhile, in the first match of the day, the Mpumalanga Sunbirds claimed a comprehensive 48-29 win over the Limpopo Baobabs.
The Baobabs clearly missed their star shooter, Rahab Ngobeni, who is not playing this weekend, and struggled to keep up with the Sunbirds throughout the match.
It was in the third quarter that the real damage was done. The Sunbirds were simply far quicker and more decisive and managed a total of 13 goals to the Baobabs’ five.
By the end of the third quarter, the team from Mpumalanga had extended their lead to 15 goals and then took it even further in the fourth to finish with the 19-goal win, and a boost of confidence to take into the rest of the weekend.
The Sunbirds’ Palesa Mbukwana was particularly impressive on defence, and claimed the player of the match award for her efforts while the team’s goal attack and shooter, captain Thulisile Nhleko and Leani du Plessis were also outstanding.
Coach of the Sunbirds, Jenne-Lee Delport was thrilled with the victory – her team’s second over the Boababs this season, saying: “Ecstatic is what explains it. I was putting pressure on my players telling them I want to win every quarter by five points, knowing that the Baobabs’ third quarter was their strongest quarter and that’s where we almost lost the previous match against them.
“So winning by 19 was incredible. I am extremely proud of my players and I felt that all the players on court played good netball. I’m very happy,” added Delport, whose main concern for the rest of the weekend will be the injury to centre Diana Hlogwane, which will rule her out of the remaining games.
Baobabs coach Cecilia Molokwane, meanwhile, has the task of picking up her players after a disappointing night.
“We are going to go on a positive note. We have to make the girls believe in themselves more – that with or without Rahab they have to play. So we have to pick the girls up and tell them to take every game as it comes,” she said.
Saturday’s matches in Durban will see the Western Cape Southern Stars take on the KZN Kingdom Stars in the first quarterfinal of the day at 12pm before the Eastern Cape Aloes play the Mpumalanga Sunbirds at 2pm. In the other quarterfinal at 4pm the Free State Crinums play the Gauteng Golden Fireballs and the final match of the day will be a showdown between the Northern Cape Diamonds and the Limpopo Baobabs at 6pm.