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The North West Flames and the Gauteng Jaguars set the Ellis Park Indoor Arena alight on Saturday with a thrilling, pulsating match that ended in a 52-52 draw. The Flames retained their unbeaten record in this year’s Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League, but only just.

The Jaguars had a slow start and the Flames took control early in the match.  After the first quarter, the Flames had a 13-8 lead.  Jaguars coach Jenny van Dyk took goalshooter Melissa Kotze off, replacing her with 20-year-old Ina-Marie Venter, who made all the difference to the Jaguars.  Gradually, they reeled the Flames in, drawing level 10 minutes into the second quarter.  The Flames came back and were 26-20 ahead at halftime.

But it was in the third quarter that the Jaguars showed their mettle.  They drew level at 34-all, and with less than 90 seconds left, took the lead for the first time in the match.  Four goals in quick succession put them 38-35 ahead when the whistle blew.

The crowd cheered every goal as the lead changed hands several times in the final quarter.  The noise level was deafening in the final few minutes as first one side, then the other, took the lead.  With seconds left, with a calmness beyond her years, Venter held her nerve to score and tie the match.

Asked how she had managed to stay so calm under the pressure, Venter said her calmness had been an act.

“I was shaking inside, but you’ve got to fake it to make it,” she laughed.  Venter was named player of the match.

Van Dyk was thrilled with Venter’s performance.

“She’s just a youngster and she coped very well with the pressure.  I took Melissa off because she wasn’t having a good game, but Ina-Marie stepped up to the plate, “ said Van Dyk.

Flames coach Dorette Badenhorst said her team would learn a lot from the match.

“One thing they will learn is that if things go wrong on court, you’ve got to put it behind you and focus on what’s coming,” said Badenhorst.

Earlier, the defending champions, the Free State Crinums, barely raised a sweat as they breezed past their neighbours, the Northern Cape Diamonds,  beating them 64-24, after leading 31-11 at halftime.

Coach Burta de Kock took advantage of playing one of the weaker teams in the competition to try out her younger players.

“I was so happy with the way they responded,” said De Kock.

“I even sent 18-year-olds onto the court.  I have now been able to play all 17 members of my squad and I am so proud of the way they have stuck to the game plan, whether the top players are there or not.”

Diamonds coach Elsje van der Merwe was philosophical.

“I think it was in their minds,” she said.

They didn’t play well today, and I am hoping for a much better performance when we play the Aloes tomorrow.  We are evenly matched and it should be a good game,” said Van der Merwe.

Long-time rivals the Limpopo Baobabs and the Kingdom Stars fought hard in their match, with the Stars winning by 61 goals to 30, after leading 34-17 at halftime.

The two coaches, Cecilia Molokwane and Marchelle Maroun, agreed that the two teams played similar styles of netball, which made every meeting tough.

“We went into the match with a certain amount of trepidation, because we know the Baobabs can come back strongly,” said Maroun, while Molokwane said she was very proud of her players for fighting hard through every quarter.

“If they were as fit as the Stars, we could have a match like the Flames and the Jaguars,” she said.

The final match of the day was between the Gauteng Fireballs and the Eastern Cape Aloes.  The Fireballs ran out comfortable winners, beating the Aloes 50-41, but the Aloes fought hard, and won the last two quarters.  Both coaches brought on bench players in order to give as many members of their squads exposure.

“I’m happy that we won, but I’m not happy that we lost the second half,” said Fireballs coach Elsje Jordaan.

“I would have liked a bigger margin, but I always felt we were in control of the match.”

Aloes coach Desiree Neville, who took over two weeks ago, after the resignation of the previous coach, said she was still trying to get her team to work according to her ideas.

“I was happy that we won the second half.  We play the Diamonds tomorrow, and we are definitely going for a win there.”