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Former champions the Free State Crinums beat the Gauteng Golden Fireballs 44-41 on Friday night to reach the semifinals of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League at the Pretoria University Sports Centre.

It was an exciting match between two teams of equal strength. In their round robin match, the Crinums squeaked home by 44 goals to 43.

The Fireballs took the early lead and appeared to have matters under control. At the end of the first quarter, they led 11-8, and at halftime they were ahead by 21 goals to 19.

The Crinums stormed back after the break, with a flurry of goals that saw them first draw level on 23-all, and then overtake the Gauteng team to win the quarter by 12 goals to eight for a 33-29 lead.

In the final quarter, it was the Fireballs who bounced back, but although they won the quarter 12-11, they were unable to make up the four-goal deficit.

The defence on both sides was outstanding, but the Crinums goalshooter Alicia Puren was on song, with 100 per cent accuracy in the first and third quarters, and 83 per cent success in the second and fourth.

“We knew they would come hard at us,” said Crinums coach Burta de Kock.

“They have experienced players and very accurate shooters, so we knew we had to pick up on defence and keep the ball in hand.”

Fireballs coach Dorette Badenhorst said the Crinums had been better at retaining possession.

“It was a great game, but they were better than us today. We struggled to turn balls and we also struggled in the centre court.”

The North West Flames cruised into the semifinals when they thrashed the Kingdom Stars by 68 goals to 41.

The outcome of the match was never in doubt – the Flames led from start to finish, increasing their lead with every quarter. At the first interval, they were 18-9 ahead, and by halftime they had a lead of 34-19.

It was a very physical game and the Stars fought like tigers as they tried to get back into the match. Coach Madri Maritz made a number of changes during the match, while Flames coach Elsje Jordaan kept her starting line-up intact until halftime, when she started making some changes. In the final quarter, she made wholesale changes, putting a completely new line-up on court, and resting experienced players like goal attack Elsunet du Plessis, goalshooter Vanes-Mari du Toit and centre Rome Dreyer. The Stars took advantage of the situation and drew the quarter 13-all.

“I wanted to give my babies some time on court,” said Jordaan.

“I knew it was going to be a very physical match and that I would have to manage my players and bring on fresh legs. In fact, I took Elsunet off at halftime because I didn’t want to risk any injury.

“All twelve players got some time on court and that may prove to be important in the semifinal tomorrow,” she said.

Maritz said she was very pleased with the way her team had fought all the way.

“Even though we lost, we are 100 per cent better than last year, when we came seventh.”

“I thought it was a very good game. I am very happy with the way we played and what we have achieved this year,” said Maritz.

The Crinums will meet the Stings in the semifinal on Saturday while the Flames will play defending champions, the Jaguars, who have not lost a match in the tournament this year.

The Fireballs and the Stars will compete against each other in the play-off for fifth position.